Coalition targets high school students to prevent drug and alcohol use

  • Written by By Sarah Wakefield
  • Thursday, January 10, 2013 - 06:00
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Rating: 5 (based on 2 votes)
Donna Wethington
Donna Wethington

Staff Writer

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."

Last modified on Thursday, January 10, 2013 - 06:00

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Donna Wethington

Donna Wethington


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  • CAC

    Posted at 2013-01-14 20:15:48

    Here is the link to our Facebook page if you would like to keep abreast of the activities for our coalition!/pages/Clay-Action-Coalition/385205754890264

  • Jean Strauser

    Posted at 2013-01-10 17:28:39

    I enjoyed reading Ms. Wethington's article about what is being done in Clay County. Is this being done through a Drug Free Community grant? I represent a similar coalition in Craighead County, AR who have very similar goals, except we are focusing more on prescription drug abuse, such as narcotic pain medicine. Arkansas has continually been among the top 10 states suffering from the national epidemic since this reporting started in 2002 and many of our children have been dying or growing into adulthood with the illness of addiction.

    When the Out of the Dark Movement(my coalition) started in 2008, Arkansas was ranked No. 1, having the highest rates in the country and according to the results of the APNA state survey at the time, Craighead County was above state average. We have made a difference in our schools,but continue to battle the problem with no help from our state legislature. We have applied for the DFC grant for 2 years and have come very close both times to being awarded it, but so far we are completed underfunded, which keeps us from doing all we would like to do. I would love for you to look at our website at and communicate with you to see how our programs are alike and how they differ. We are all in this together and can learn from each other. Keep up the good work!

  • jeff

    Posted at 2013-01-10 14:32:44

    It's groups like this that help keep teen drug rates lower in communities. The one area that typically lacks when it comes to education is the education of parents. Teen addicts in treatment tell myteensavers that parents are usually in the dark about the drug use in their neighborhood. They say more parental proactivity and home drug testing could have helped stop their experimental use before it became an addiction. It's good to see Clay County have their finger on the pulse and working towards a solution to the problem.


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