Prevention must be the cure for youth drug addiction

A survey done to measure the attitude toward, history and perception of drug use among local students revealed 95 percent reported not trying prescription drugs that weren’t prescribed to them, and an even greater 99 percent reported never trying heroin.

But what was reported by the students in grades six through 12 was more tried tobacco, alcohol and marijuana.

The study of four schools in Trumbull County, done by the Trumbull County Mental Health and Recovery Board in November 2015, shows 15 percent of those questioned reported trying tobacco; 27 percent reported trying alcohol; and 13 percent reported trying marijuana. The schools were not revealed in the study because of privacy concerns.

Students who try those drugs at a younger age are more likely to progress to harder drugs in their younger adult years, said Laura C. Domitrovich, children’s program coordinator at the Trumbull County Mental Health and Recovery Board. So the data is reviewed with the schools to make them aware of the trends and used to “help guide prevention efforts,” she said.

“We try to talk with parents about developmental times when they (the students) are at risk,” Domitrovich said, like transitions from elementary school to junior high and then into high school.

“Any time there is a major change with the kids, it can be hard, and wanting to fit in, wanting to feel like you belong, anytime there is a major change with the school routine, with a peer group … there is more temptation in that regard,” Domitrovich said.

“We do what we can to amp up the effort to build coping and resiliency skills so they can have the confidence to say ‘no’ and choose other avenues,” she said.

Schools are on the front line of defense against addiction, especially in a time when some teens and kids are growing up in households where they might see their parents, siblings or extended family members using, said Jeff Orr, a captain in the Trumbull County Sheriff’s Office, who also is commander of the Trumbull-Ashtabula Group Law Enforcement Task Force.

So schools need to offer consistent, comprehensive drug education that students can take with them for life, Orr said. And the lessons need to be impactful enough to stay with kids outside the school day because the majority of student drug use occurs outside the school at home or at a friend’s house, according to the survey.

The survey also shows about 12 percent of students polled think their parents think it is not at all wrong or only a little bit wrong to use prescription drugs that are not prescribed to them and about 22 percent think their friends feel that way. Because prescription pills are prescribed by a doctor, youth may not fully realize the danger they pose, Orr said.

Younger people often start with them, sometimes with legitimate prescriptions and sometimes from the medicine cabinets of relatives or friends, Orr said.

And once a person starts on an opioid, stopping can be particularly hard, especially at a young age, Orr said.

The physical and cognitive changes to the brain opioids cause can impact children more deeply, and make it harder for them to quit later in life, Domitrovich said.

Often, people who are addicted to opioids can’t feel happy or healthy without a dose because the brain has been trained to rely on the substance to stimulate those emotions, Domitrovich said. And because the pills have the same effect on the brain as heroin, when the prescription runs out or the cost becomes too much to support, users sometimes turn to the street drug, Orr said.

Amy Jo Giovannone of Mecca said that is what happened to her daughter.

Sierra Giovannone Roberts was 23 when she died in 2014 from an accidental drug overdose. Roberts needed surgery to correct a severe curvature of her spine at 15, Giovannone said. She didn’t suspect the four-months’ supply of oxycodone prescription her daughter was given after the surgery would lead to an addiction, but it did, Giovannone said.

Since her daughter’s death, Giovannone, who now advocates for addiction awareness and drug prevention, said she has learned it is hard for teens to believe trying a drug for the first time or taking a prescription pill can lead to addiction. What kids need to hear are the scientific and social reasons why addiction can develop before it takes over their life.