Binge drinking, cocaine and heroine are some of the discussion points for a recent project the Keene School District, Keene Board of Education and Keene State College Health Science students have collaborated on. One of the KSC senior capstone classes for health science majors is a research-based course, made up of ten students who have begun hands-on research with the issue of substance abuse. Marjorie Droppa, KSC health science professor, is leading the course where KSC students will interview Keene High School students, parents, teachers and janitors as well as inmates at the Cheshire County House of Corrections to collect data. The issue was brought to Droppa’s attention when she found out about “substance abuse, where Keene High School students are using some substances at higher rates not only of all high school students of the state, but also in some cases nationally. So the issue is of great concern here,” she said.

Droppa first heard word of this problem through the Keene Board of Education, of which she is a part of. The “foundation” of this project, according to Droppa, has to do with awareness and informing those who might not view this type of abuse as an issue at all about the severity the conflict holds. Another reason why the project is being conducted is to assist in doing something about the drug and alcohol abuse and learning how to help.

In fact, according to Droppa, the Keene area has a higher drug and alcohol abuse average than the state of New Hampshire’s average. Health Science major Kelsey Bumsted said the point of this project is to teach the Keene community about this issue and find out how it is taking a toll on the area.

Bumsted said fellow classmates and herself will be speaking with social workers as well, and said she believes hearing from students is vital to the project. Bumstead said she is also interested in what teachers and janitors have to say because they have “perspectives as outsiders, but also as people who might overhear conversations or see things in class that students don’t really pick up on when they’re talking.”

Droppa said her students are figuring out how to find statistical data to interpret and figure out what issues KHS has more specifically. From there, her students will form questions for their recent and upcoming interviews.

KHS students participate in a national survey called the Youth Risk Behavior Survey. The last record of the response KHS students had to this survey is from 2011. “What we don’t have are the stories behind the numbers and that’s what this project is about,” Droppa said, and added that KHS students are using more heroin and cocaine that the average N.H. high school student is using.

Not only are Droppa’s students looking for what problems there are, but what the community feels about the topic. “Do you as a student feel that your families, your parents and the community at large have the rules and expectations for you around substance abuse?” Droppa said when speaking of the questions her students are trying to find responses to.

She said this issue is larger than just individual KHS students, and that KSC students are attempting to see what types of roles culture and community play as well. These health science majors are aiming to find what causes these high school students to use these drugs in the first place. By asking open-ended questions, KSC students will try to find out if there are places people can go if they feel upset or need a place to turn to, according to Droppa.

While the studies are related to KHS students who might abuse these substances, the capstone course students are also intrigued by students who aren’t turning to drugs because “we would want to know what are the protective factors that you have that shield you from turning to substances,” Droppa said.

One of the reasons KHS students might be getting involved in these illegal substances, Bumsted believes, is that there may not be enough to do in the area. Not only could this abuse occur because there aren’t enough sober activities for teenagers to spend time with, but “it’s easy for younger students to see what’s going on and they have a lot of connections here [KSC] and also being so close to Vermont and Massachusetts and being along Route 9,” Bumsted said, and pointed out that the traffic between these states could be a factor.

She explained that this study also reflects a broader issue about how the Keene community views substance abuse and how the media and society reaches out to the younger crowd. While it’s still early on in her research, Bumsted said she believes there may be some negative influence from the college on high school students. Since the high school and college are so close in area, Bumsted said “[KSC] students don’t really take into consideration the Keene community outside of our school,” and said high school age students can easily get involved with college level activity being so close by.

As far as KSC students go, Director of the Health and Wellness Center, Tiffany Mathews, said “in regard to college health, our statistics are very similar to other colleges.”

Mathews said KSC students who have issues with drug and/or alcohol abuse are referred to either the Counseling Center, the Center for Health and Wellness, or both.

The students will continue interviews up until December, when they will make presentations for the Keene Board of Education, and try to find some type of reasoning behind the substance abuse numbers to find a possible solution to the problem.

“We really believe that if you’re going to do a research project and people are willing to participate in it, you need to report back to those people and tell them what you found,” she said.


Brittany Ballantyne can be contacted at

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