Missouri organization focuses on teen drug use

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COLUMBIA — ACT Missouri held its 12th annual Speak Hard Youth Conference Monday at the Capitol Plaza Hotel.

ACT Missouri is an organization promote “safe, healthy and drug-fee communities."

“It’s a good opportunity for the youth to come together learn a variety of topics, but they can also get to see other youths around the state, and they are sharing and leaning things together,” Alicia Ozenberger, ACT Missouri’s Deputy Director, said.

Speak Hard Youth Conference addresses the issues of underage drinking, substance abuse and prevention since 2005.

“We know that substance abuse is really harmful to our youth, especially when they are developing brains,” Ozenberger said.

Speak Hard Youth Conference invited experts including youth presenters. The 2016 keynote is a professional touring group of 12 elite and diverse young artists who share their thoughts via different ways, including dance,, drama, original music, poetry and video.

“They are coming in and they talk about a variety topics that teens faced on a daily basis," Ozenberger said.
"Substance abuse, dating violence, suicide—all of those heavy topics that we know that kids have to deal with."

Ozenberger said Missouri has a more serious problem of underage drinking compared to other states.

“We know that the average age that a child starts drinking is about 13 years old, late 12 to early 13," Ozenberger said. "So obviously that’s a problem.”

More than 350 people registered for the statewide event.

Gunner Smith, a 16-year-old participant in the Speak Hard Youth Conference, said it is important for teenagers to face the problems of underage drinking, substance abuse and prevention.

"It's going to affects their health in a long-run, and people don't realize that yet. But when something bad happens, they started to realize it. The most important part of our prevention is just by educating," Smith said.