Oftentimes, the tragic results of drug abuse is widely publicized, while the efforts to stamp out the spread of its use go unnoticed.
On the front line of the war against drugs, Medway Drug Enforcement Agency realizes education is, perhaps, the best weapon.
“We’ve been going in and having open discussions with students about drugs, and they have been very receptive,” said Andrew Koch, Medway K9 agent, who talked with groups of students at Northwestern Elementary School with his drug dog, Emil, a yellow lab.
“We talk about what they’re seeing and then really get into the education and prevention,” he said. “With social media these days, unfortunately, so many kids, even in their personal lives, have seen family members or friends using different kinds of drugs. And we’re not just talking marijuana anymore; we have kids that have seen people use heroin and cocaine.”
Since 2011, Medway has made rounds to schools. This fall, the agency hit most area schools and hopes to visit each by the end of the school year.
“It’s important for kids to see law enforcement from a different perspective from what they may see on TV,” Don Hall, director of Medway said, “while expressing the importance of living a drug free life and the pitfalls of what may happen should you get involved in drugs.”
About 32 percent of area senior students use alcohol and 17 percent use marijuana, according to a report from Wayne County Family and Children First Council. The survey, which pooled drug prevention agencies and schools, also states 14 percent of sophomores have used alcohol, with 12 percent trying marijuana.
Substance abuse is relatively low in middle school, the report says, noting 9 percent of eighth-graders have used alcohol.
Seniors regularly using prescription pills is less than 2 percent, while those who have tried heroin do not register a percentage point.
“For the most part, what’s measurable, is tobacco, alcohol and marijuana use,” said Eileen Keller, community health and wellness director at STEPS at Liberty Center, a substance abuse prevention agency. “It’s not like the average teen wakes up and wants to try heroin today. But if I go to a party, and there’s alcohol, I might try it. And then I go to more alcohol parties. And, eventually, someone there has marijuana. That’s predicted behavior.
“And if you think of it, we’re surveying schools,” she added, “and those with heavy addictions are not sitting in classrooms.”
High school students with a drug free coalition presence are 16 percent less likely to try alcohol and 24 percent less apt to in middle school compared to national averages, according to a report published by the National Evaluation of Drug-Free Communities Support Program. While not as drastic of a gap, high schoolers try marijuana 5 percent less than national trends when offered a drug prevention program.
Koch said the discussions are not a tool to persuade students to provide information that may get their parents in trouble, but rather one that will arm them with the facts needed to steer clear of drugs.
With the accessibility of social media, some students, Koch said, are fairly cognizant of how prevalent hard core drugs are becoming.
“Some are still shocked,” he said. “But with the way social media is and all the news that’s out there, others have a lot of input and the discussions turn out well.”
When educating students, Hall said, the sweet spot for grasping and retaining the most information is sixth-ninth grade.
“At that age, a lot of stuff is being thrown at them, positive and negative experiences, and peer pressure is so prevalent,” he said. “When I was in high school, beer and marijuana were the big thing. But now, it’s prescription pills and heroin.”
Depending on the age group, though, Medway tailors each visit to suit its audience. At Northwestern Elementary School, Emil was the star of the show, until Koch redirected the conversation.
“If I could ask the kids what they took away from this, they may say, ‘Emil was so cute,'” said Tammy McClure, third-grade teacher, adding classes had questions lined up and ready to ask Koch. “But I hope they take away a deeper meaning.”
Koch said the message he focused on with the third-graders was “the dangers of touching and seeing” drugs, adding in “middle and high school level, we go into the using and being around it, and deeper discussions, because the maturity level is there.”
Reporter Jonathan Scholles can be reached at 330-287-1632 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He is @jonschollesTDR on Twitter.