Coalition targets high school students to prevent drug and alcohol use
GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Clay County is using funds from a $625,000 grant to show high school students a better way of living.
The Clay Action Coalition wants to continue the Clay County trend that shows kids are staying away from alcohol and drugs. It’s using $125,000 of the five-year grant to target ninth through twelfth grade students who may be regular users of alcohol, tobacco or marijuana.
"Whether it is legal or not, it does something to your body," said Donna Wethington, Clay County School District’s Supervisor of Student Services, leader and grant writer for the Clay Action Coalition. "After working with youth and adolescents all these years in the classroom and seeing so many social-emotional and substance abuse issues [and how it] creates behavioral problems, then they can’t succeed academically and it creates conflict in the home."
According to the 2012 Florida Youth Substance Abuse Survey, 35.2 percent of Clay County high school students have used alcohol in the past 30 days, which is higher than the statewide average of 33.9 percent. Wethington and Coalition Coordinator Stephanie Geoghagan believe prevention is key. The coalition will spread the word through its Facebook page, pamphlets at doctors’ offices, talking to parents at open houses, and the classroom.
"If we can prevent or postpone them from drinking or smoking, research shows that if you can postpone a youth from smoking past the age of 18 or 19, 90 percent will never smoke," Wethington said. "If you can postpone them from drinking until after they’re 21, then you have less than a 50 percent chance they’ll never be an alcoholic."
The Coalition believes that true change in teen behavior will come with heightened awareness about the risk among teens. It also wants to increase parental disapproval and change peer attitudes about using drugs.
"Postponing until their brains are fully developed is so important. I don’t think some adults truly understand there’s now so much evidence from MRIs and brain scans we know so much more about the effects of marijuana," Wethington said.
Alcohol and drugs can create other serious problems for teens.
"We collected data from one of our coalition members," said Geoghagan of Clay Behavioral. "We can show 80 percent of underage people who came into the health department to be seen for sexually transmitted disease were under the influence of drugs or alcohol before having sex."
In 2004, Clay County received money from a similar anti-drug grant targeting middle school students and the statics decreased from 27.5 percent in 2002 to 10.4 percent in 2012.
"We targeted middle schools with that money, focusing on substance abuse education and hitting them at a younger age," Wethington said. "We talked to the children about making good decisions and what those drugs do to their body. We tried to increase parental involvement."
With such success among middle schoolers, Wethington and Geoghagan are confident about tackling high schoolers, despite more independence and busier schedules.
Clay Action Coalition enlists the help of community leaders, parents, youth group leaders, medical providers, and law enforcement agencies. The grant will create the infrastructure for long term sustainability. Anyone can become a member by attending meetings, providing feedback and becoming a sponsor. Currently, CAC includes members from the school district, Clay Behavioral and Eagle Harbor community.
"I see in the future the harm it does to not only the child and their health but to the families so when addiction sets in," Wethington said, a certified addiction professional. "It’s a hard downhill spiral or an uphill climb for the rest of their lives to get over addiction. We hope to prevent that."
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