APHA Student Assembly members looking to network and learn more about public health in Colorado made the National Student Meeting their first Annual Meeting stop on Saturday.

Workers from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment address attendees at the National Student Meeting. Photo by Natalie McGill/courtesy The Nation's Health.

Workers from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment address attendees at the National Student Meeting. Photo by Natalie McGill/courtesy The Nation’s Health.

The student meeting opened with a panel of four Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment workers, who offered students a snapshot of statewide health in areas such as substance abuse and mental health.

Colorado is one of the top 10 states for high rates of suicide deaths, said Sarah Brummett, coordinator of the state’s Suicide Prevention Commission. For every one unintentional firearm death, there are 18 firearm homicides and 78 firearm suicides, Brummett told students.

“When we talk about firearm violence, it’s self directed here in Colorado,” Brummett said.

Hope Adams, who is pursuing her MPH at the Colorado School of Public Health via the University of Northern Colorado, said she was surprised to hear about the suicide rate in the state.

“The (Veterans Administration) is doing a study about high altitudes and depression,” Adams said. “I thought it was weird the (Colorado) obesity rate was low but the depression rate is so high.”

Many student questions were directed at the public health issues surrounding marijuana legalization. Medical marijuana use was legalized in 2000 in Colorado and recreational use legalized in 2012.

Education efforts, such as the state health department’s Good to Know campaign, has targeted messages on the health and legal risks for adult users, tourists, and pregnant and breastfeeding women, said Erin Flynn, who works in the department’s Retail Marijuana Education Program as a marijuana education and youth prevention coordinator.

“I go to school in Alabama,” said Dieudonne Bidashimwa, an MPH student at the University of Alabama-Birmingham concentrating in maternal and child health. “It’s a very conservative state. It’s interesting to see how marijuana legalization is discussed openly here.”

Another health department campaign, Protect What’s Next, reminds young adults about long-term financial risks of marijuana, such as losing a job for violating workplace policies on marijuana use, Flynn said.

“If you’re 14 years old in Colorado, you have literally grown up in a world where marijuana has always been legal,” Flynn said. “Instead of scare tactics, we say ‘Yes that’s legal. You have a medical marijuana card. But it can get in the way of some things you want to achieve.’”

When National Student Meeting Co-Chair Robin Petering asked what career advice they’d give to students, Flynn’s pitch was simply to “say yes.”

“That’s the only reason I’m sitting up here,” said Flynn, who was doing substance abuse prevention education on college campuses before her current job. “I said yes to a lot of random things. Say yes to the random things that will lead to other places.”