Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Programs to fight Drug Abuse in Jeopardy


Parental involvement and education programs dealing with student alcohol and drug use are keys to prevention, school officials say.

But at a time when binge drinking and prescription drug use is on the rise among Sumner County teens, programs aimed at fighting the problem could fall by the wayside, unless the Board of Education comes up with additional dollars in next year’s budget.

Safe Schools, Healthy Students, the school system’s anti-drug and violence prevention program, is completely funded by federal grants, and this year those dollars are funding more programs to combat obesity and bullying.

In jeopardy are programs like Students Taking A Right Stand, which has six full-time counselors working with parents to resolve issues at home and help students combat issues that might interfere with their academic achievements, such as family problems or drug and alcohol addictions.

Money will also run out this year for the school system’s three prevention coordinators – about $120,000 – who work with middle- and high-school students teaching alcohol education and making responsible decisions.

So far, at least one school board member says he is receptive to continue funding for alcohol and drug education, but that could change at budget time in June.

“My feeling is that if we can include athletic trainers in our budget, we can certainly include money for (prevention coordinators) whose work, in my opinion, is just as important as athletic trainers are,” said White House member Ted Wise.

Safe Schools, Healthy Students works year-round to reduce risk factors for young people by teaching drug and alcohol education beginning in kindergarten.

A survey recently completed by the Sumner County Anti Drug Coalition showed six percent of Sumner 12th-graders and 12 percent of 10th-graders reported having used prescription drugs without a doctor’s orders within 30 days in order to get high.

According to the survey, 17 percent of high school seniors surveyed reported binge drinking at least one or two times in the two-week period surveyed; another 7 percent of seniors reported binge drinking three to nine times; and 3 percent reported 10 or more occasions of binge drinking in the same two-week period

“If you can keep your kids from not using to the age of 21, it allows their brain to develop,” said Pat Conner, Sumner County Schools’ Safe Schools, Healthy Students coordinator. “If you can keep them from using until the age of 25, it greatly reduces their chances of becoming dependent.”

Conner says alcohol and drug use is not just a school problem – it's a community problem that’s brought into the schools.

“We do have a lot of students in our school system who are struggling emotionally,” she said. “Times are very difficult – families are stressed economically and some students have been displaced.”

Since August, the school system has seen 122 cases of child abuse, Conner said.

“That’s a serious sign of dysfunction in the community,” she said.

Organized in 2006 by former Criminal Court Clerk Judge Jane Wheatcraft, the coalition's goal is to crack down on the problem by asking everyone in the community to become involved and address the problem.

The coalition regularly teams with local law enforcement to hold events such as prescription drug drop-off nights throughout the county and regular compliance checks with area businesses to make sure they don’t sell alcohol to anyone underage.

Because the rate of illegal prescription drug use is rapidly increasing, the coalition wants the community to get the message to lock up their prescription drugs, and if they’re expired, get rid of them.
Teen years crucial for brain development

Parents who strictly monitor their teens' behavior while also modeling good behaviors are the most influential forces in preventing children from using drugs and alcohol.

But education and health officials say it’s also important for parents to understand how alcohol and drug use affects brain development in adolescents.

For many years it was thought that by the time children reached their teen years, brain development was complete, said Dr. Mary Romano, a pediatrician specializing in adolescent medicine at Monroe Carrell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt in Nashville.

“The old belief was that a teenager is a mini-adult, but studies have shown that the adolescent’s brain continues to grow and change dramatically into the early 20s,” Romano said, pointing to a recent studies published the National Institute of Mental Health showing the frontal lobes of the brain, responsible for reasoning and problem-solving, develop last.

Further brain research reveals alcohol, tobacco and drug use during adolescence can interrupt this process, stunting the development of the brain and leading to lifelong problems, inability to cope, learning and memory problems, impulsiveness, problem-solving and planning skills, impulsiveness, anger management problems and immaturity.

The earlier teens drink, smoke or use drugs, the more likely they are to become addicts, Romano said.

“It’s the same theory as why you shouldn’t expose a fetus to drugs or alcohol in the womb,” Romano said.

“The brain is actively changing and growing rapidly in the teen years, and research has shown [drugs and alcohol] definitely have very negative effects in that development phase and sets them up for lifelong addiction.”

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