Students Learn About Drugs and Alcohol the Hard Way

Every day at Meridian we have conversations that normally end with us shaking our heads and saying “It was never this bad when we were kids.” Sure, there was the occasional bully in the lunchroom or party that got busted for alcohol use, but never to the extent of what kids are facing today. 

We know that our school-aged kids are facing drug and alcohol issues like never before. And now with social media everywhere, not only is the use and abuse being made public, it’s also being advertised by the users themselves. 

According to CASA (The National Center for Addiction and Substance Abuse), in 2009 more than one-third of teens said they could get prescription drugs to get high within a day; nearly one in five teens could get them within an hour.

Locally, the numbers are just as staggering. A study conducted by The Coalition for a Drug-Free Mahoning County in April 2012 shows that 28% of 11th grade students have consumed alcohol in the past 30 days, while 19% admitted to using marijuana and 6% have misused prescription medication. And frighteningly, 3.5% of 11th graders have used heroin. 

Kids don’t typically realize the damage that drug and alcohol use can do to their lives. But according to CASA, it can be life-altering.

Substance use interferes with all of the indicators of school success — attendance, academic performance, promotion and graduation, as well as achievement on standardized tests including college entrance exams. It increases the likelihood of dropout, suspension and expulsion, and adversely affects student academic performance by physically damaging areas of the brain involved in learning and memory.

Students who smoke, drink or use drugs are at greater risk for failure, absenteeism, truancy and dropping out of school. We’re recognizing that these interferences from alcohol and drug abuse span all areas of our community, with no geographic or economic boundaries. 

It’s not surprising then, given all these statistics, that parents, teachers and even some law enforcement officials feel helpless. “What can we do?” they ask. 

That’s a good question. How do we challenge this drug and alcohol problem? Let’s face it…once a kid gets caught up in this world, it’s very tough to pull him or her free. 

So why don’t we attack the problem before it begins? That’s right; we can focus on preventing drug and alcohol use and abuse. 

Not only does the prevention approach make sense, it works. One very successful prevention effort is the PANDA Leaders Club — which was started over 40 years ago and has spread like wildfire in the last few years. 

PANDA helps kids make positive life choices and provides an outlet for middle school and high school kids to safely express their feelings and discuss issues affecting them. There are clubs in 13 Valley schools, and over 19 schools participate in PANDA activities throughout the year. 

At PANDA meetings, kids discuss stressors like bullying, depression, suicide, unhealthy relationships, peer pressure, family dynamics and more. In other words, the types of problems that could lead to using drugs or alcohol as a quick fix.

You might be surprised to learn that even though prevention programs like PANDA save healthcare costs, taxpayer dollars and even families, it’s very difficult to get funding for them. After all, who wants to pay for a problem that doesn’t exist yet?

Fortunately some businesses and organizations — including PNC Bank, Panera Bread and O’Charley’s, Northern States Metals and Comprehensive Psychiatry Group — have stepped up to partner with Meridian to help sponsor PANDA in Valley schools. We’re hoping others do the same.

And while PANDA has been a successful tool for use in the schools, the problem does not begin or end in the schools. We need to get the word out and work in more schools as well as other parts of the community. 

If you want to learn more or lend a hand, please visit Prevention may be the only way we can avoid the fight and still win the war.