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District attorney’s office sponsors conference for students about preventing substance abuse

The Northwestern District Attorney’s office will bring together middle and high school students next week for a conference on substance abuse prevention.

About 100 middle and high school students from Franklin and Hampshire counties are expected to hear from an expert in the field of addiction in developing brains, and participate in workshops focusing on influencing their peers.

“We now know that areas of the teenage brain are more vulnerable to the negative effects of drugs and alcohol,” said District Attorney David E. Sullivan. “It’s more important than ever to engage young people in communicating to their peers the risks and consequences of substance abuse.”

The Youth Conference on Substance Abuse Prevention Wednesday at Greenfield Community College is the second organized by the district attorney’s office.

Intended for students, the conference is not open to the public.

Last year’s conference focused on underage drinking; this year the scope has broadened to substance abuse.

Keynote speaker Dr. Marisa Silveri will address students and adult leaders about the latest developments in understanding of the teenage brain, according to the district attorney’s office.

Silveri is an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and director of the Neurodevelopmental Laboratory on Addictions and Mental Health at McLean Hospital, a Harvard-affiliated psychiatric hospital in Belmont. Silveri has published extensively on the impacts of alcohol, heroin and other opiates, chronic marijuana use and cocaine on the body, with a focus on alcohol and the adolescent brain.

Mary Carey, a spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office, said in a statement that the goal is to inform students and get them to think about the dangers and consequences of substance abuse, especially given recent research that shows that the teen brain is much more susceptible than the adult brain to some of the negative effects of drugs and alcohol.

Carey said some schools could not attend due to a scheduling conflict with a practice SAT test, but students from Greenfield, Turners Falls, Ware, Northampton, Belchertown and Easthampton high schools, Smith Vocational and possibly others will be present.

The conference is sponsored by the district attorney’s office, GCC, the Gill-Montague Community School Partnership, the Communities That Care Coalition, the Collaborative for Educational Services, the Northampton Prevention Coalition and the Hampshire County-based Strategic Planning Initiative for Families and Youth.

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