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Butte-Silver Bow Health Department

The Butte-Silver Bow Health Department is located at 25 W. Front St.

In January, the Butte-Silver Bow Health Department received some new data that was cause for celebration — from 2011 through 2015, our county saw a decline in births by teens of 27 percent over the previous five-year period.

May is an excellent time to talk about teen pregnancy, since it is Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month. It appears that this discussion and related messaging is having an effect beyond Butte-Silver Bow — according to a federal youth website, youth.gov/feature-article/teen-pregnancy-prevention-month, the U.S. teen birth rate declined 9 percent from 2009 to 2010, reaching a historic low at 34.3 births per 1,000 women ages 15 to 19. The rate dropped 44 percent from 1991 through 2010. “Fewer babies were born to teens nationally in 2010 than in any year since 1946,” according to the site. “If the teen birth rates observed in 1991 had not declined through 2010 as they did, there would have been an estimated 3.4 million additional births to teens from 1992 through 2010.”

This all means that many teenagers are staying teenagers rather than caring for a baby well before the teenager is capable of such a massive undertaking. I ask that any adult reading this column refer a teen they love to a website at stayteen.org. The StayTeen site talks to teens about everything from birth control and sex to relationships and abstinence, emphasizing to teens that they have the power to control their future.

The work nationally and locally to reduce teen pregnancy rates folds into the national Healthy People 2020 goals:

• Reduce pregnancy rates among adolescent females

• Increase the proportion of adolescents ages 17 years and under who have never had sexual intercourse

• Increase the proportion of sexually active people ages 15 to 19 years who use condoms to both prevent pregnancy and provide barrier protection against disease

• Increase the proportion of sexually active people ages 15 to 19 years who use condoms and hormonal or intrauterine contraception to both prevent pregnancy and provide barrier protection against disease

• Increase the proportion of adolescents who received formal instruction on reproductive health topics before they were 18 years old

• Increase the proportion of adolescents who talked to a parent or guardian about reproductive health topics before they were 18 years old

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How exactly do we work to prevent teen pregnancy in Butte-Silver Bow? The primary way is through our Personal Responsibility Education Program (PREP), federally funded through the Affordable Care Act to educate youth about abstinence and contraception and other adult preparation topics.

Under PREP, an evidence-based curriculum titled Draw the Line/Respect the Line focuses on grades six through eight, with the curriculum being offered in every public elementary school in Butte, and the Ramsay School. According to the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, which assists in administering PREP, the Draw the Line/Respect the Line program “helps students develop personal sexual limits and practice the skills needed to maintain those limits when challenged.”

The sixth-grade Draw the Line/Respect the Line curriculum emphasizes “situations in which youth may be pressured to steal, use alcohol or smoke,” says DPHHS, with the curriculum featuring “limit-setting and refusal skills in a nonsexual context.”

The seventh-grade curriculum considers pressures related to sexual intercourse, featuring “short-term consequences of unplanned sex, information about sexually transmitted disease, and applying refusal skills in a party context,” says DPHHS. The eighth-grade curriculum features an HIV-positive speaker and has students practice refusal skills in the context of dating.

The high school curriculum, Making Proud Choices, is taught in health/physical education classes and provides to these teens “the knowledge, confidence, and skills necessary to reduce their risk of sexually transmitted diseases, HIV, and pregnancy by abstaining from sex or using condoms if they choose to have sex,” says DPHHS. Our Making Proud Choices curriculum is presented at Butte High School, Jefferson County High School in Boulder, and Beaverhead County High School in Dillon.

All of this is important because teenagers, simply put, are having sex. The 2015 Montana Youth Risk Behavior Survey shows that almost half — 44 percent — of Montana high school students have had sex. Among high school seniors, 60.8 percent have had sex.

And many are using substances prior to having sex. Among those students who had sexual intercourse during the past three months, 19.7 percent had used alcohol or drugs prior to their latest incident of having sex.

That’s why our PREP curricula focus not only on sex itself, including abstinence and birth control, but also on items such as drug and alcohol use and refusal skills.

All students are informed that they have access to the Health Department’s Family Planning Clinic — those 19 years and younger have been identified nationally as in particular need of family planning services because of adverse health, social, and economic consequences of teenage pregnancy, child-bearing, and child-rearing. A slate of services awaits teens — contraceptive services to prevent pregnancy; pregnancy testing and counseling; and services related to the prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.

Happy Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month. Call us at 497-5087 to learn more about our PREP classes and 497-5080 to learn more about our Family Planning Clinic.

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Karen Sullivan is Butte-Silver Bow Health Officer and Director of the Health Department. Her column, The Public's Health, appears weekly on The Montana Standard's health page.

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