While Ohio is dealing with a growing opioid epidemic, Warren County leaders are making a difference by educating youth about the dangers of substance abuse.
“An adolescent’s perception of risks associated with substance use is an important determinant in whether or not he or she engages in a substance. This is why prevention and education efforts are so important,” said Kim Sellers, Warren County Educational Service Center coordinated care program director, who oversees the county’s school programs. “Additionally, many of our young people will say it’s ‘just marijuana,’ and because of legalization in some states as well as medical marijuana, many feel the risk is low. What adolescents don’t realize is that the adolescent brain is not fully developed until their early twenties, and marijuana has a tremendous impact on the developing brain.”
Sellers said youth are at high risk for disruption to healthy brain development when using substances, which can have “a seriously negative impact on a student’s learning and ability to be successful in a learning environment.”
Students become disengaged when they are under the influence, recovering from use or are craving to use again.
“Other possible effects, whether a student is using substances themselves or growing up in a substance abusing home, are: fatigue, irritability, anxiety, health problems, tardiness and truancy. These problems contribute to poor work completion, interpersonal problems with peers or teachers, poor attention and poor follow through in school,” she said.
Every two years, a student drug use survey, known as the PRIDE survey, is given to seventh through twelfth graders in Warren County. Results of the survey provide data on the self-reported drug use patterns of area youth in addition to descriptions of behaviors and attitudes known to be related to alcohol and drug abuse.
According to the 2015-16 survey, 6.2 percent of Warren County youth reported using prescription drugs in the previous 30 days and 8 percent reported using prescription drugs not prescribed to them in the past year. Additionally, 9.3 percent of arrested and probated youth tested positive for prescription drugs.
Compared with past years’ data, marijuana attitudes among students is moving toward greater acceptance — with 36 percent of youth saying marijuana isn’t harmful. Eleven percent of 9-12 graders admit to using marijuana weekly.
Alcohol remains the substance most widely used by teens, but the 2016 survey marked the lowest levels for reported alcohol use ever recorded by the survey.
While cigarette use continued to show significant declines, reaching their lowest levels in the history of the survey, the use of e-cigarettes had a prevalence higher than the prevalence of tobacco cigarette smoking.
In an effort to see continued declines in substance use and abuse, the Warren County Educational Service Center offers programming in the county’s schools.
“Out of a wonderful partnership with the Greater Warren County Drug Task Force and the Warren County Sheriff’s Office, we are able to use some forfeiture funds for prevention and education in our schools. It has been very successful over the last six years that we have been doing this work, and our prevention and education events have expanded each year,” Sellers said, noting the Lebanon Optimist Club also has made donations.
So far this school year, substance abuse education programs have been held in Lebanon, Mason, Little Miami, Springboro, Carlisle and Waynesville.
Sellers said WCESC is working on two new drug prevention strategies.
The Warren County Correctional Institution is joining the Go-So project (Get Out-Stay Out), which will allow offenders to teleconference into local high schools to educate students on the dangers of heroin use. The participating inmates have a personal history of involvement and can speak directly on the negative effects it has had on their own lives.
The second project focuses on interviewing two county residents who are in recovery from heroin addiction.