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Nordonia Hills -- Relationships are key when it comes to preventing youth from using drugs or becoming addicted to drugs, according to school officials. Nordonia High School Principal Casey Wright said knowing students helps staff notice any sign, whether it's decreasing grades, a change in friendships the kids have had for a long time, or changes in attitude.
According to a 2014 Summit County High School Youth Risk Behavior Study, more than 14 percent of high school students say they have abused prescription painkillers while 4.5 percent have used heroin. More than 20 percent say they have been offered, sold or given drugs on school property. While these numbers are not specific to Nordonia Schools, district officials say they are under no illusions that it doesn't happen.
"You statistically know that kid exists," Wright said, adding educating and providing resources for families is key.
"The statistics are terrifying," Wright said. "When I was in school alcohol and marijuana were being abused and the signs were pretty clear -- you could smell it and see it -- now with prescription drugs it's easy for middle class kids and adults to hide the effects of abusing prescription drugs."
Wright said the signs staff are trained to look for don't always show up with prescription drugs and schools have had to rethink how to train staff to look for indicators.
He said the school focuses on educating not only kids, but parents as well, about the dangers of prescription pain killers, which have been linked to heroin addiction.
"We over-prescribe prescription pain killers," Wright said. "Kids are participating in so many sports / there is an increased number of sports-related injuries which leads to surgery, which leads to some kind of pain killer being prescribed.
"You should be asking your doctor questions, you should be monitoring your student for changes in behavior, you should know where those pills are at all times, you should not have pills in medicine cabinets that are not being utilized or are out of date," he said. "You have to talk to the kids; if we don't have positive relationships with the kids we don't know when they are facing crisis."
He added drug abuse isn't the only crisis students face, but depression and mental health are also issues that kids face.
When school is not in session, whether the students have graduated or are on summer break, the teachers, counselors and resources fall away, he said. That's a major concern, he added.
"There are probably many parents, community members, students who are aware of the dangers and we have been successful [educating], but we lose one life and I consider that an absolute failure," Wright said, adding this summer in particular has been an example of that with three recent drug-related deaths of former Nordonia students.
"We have to continue to educate after they leave school and work with municipalities on continuing those great relationships," he said.
Schools take steps toward prevention
Nordonia Schools Superintendent Dr. Joe Clark said Nordonia Schools are very proactive in working to keep students free from drugs and to provide assistance to those in need by employing a full-time community intervention coordinator Dr. Deb Wallace, who is a Licensed Independent Chemical Dependency Counselor. He said educating parents as to the dangers of drugs, alcohol, and tobacco is a vital part of prevention. The district periodically offers informative seminars, such as "Hidden in Plain Sight," in which the Copley-Bath Police Departments recreate a teen's bedroom and discuss all the hidden dangers and signs of substance abuse in teens.
Wallace said the schools have many curricula in place for prevention.
"We want to reach the kids before they ever pick up a drink or a drug," Wallace said adding she conducts support groups and individual meetings with students.
She added she compiles a list every fall of resources, including agencies recommended by other parents she hopes to place on a website eventually, but any concerned parent can call her office at any time at 330-908-6020 for the information.
Teen Institute, which is a student-led organization overseen by Regina Christy, Ohio Certified Prevention Specialist, puts on several programs throughout the year, including workshops, speakers, and winter retreat for substance-free students. The middle school has a Junior Teen Institute as well as Life Skills Training for seventh- and eighth-graders.
Nordonia graduate and Ohio Certified Prevention Specialist Zach Miley, of Community Health said peer-to-peer prevention is more effective.
"We can talk until we are blue in the face to them, but when students talk to each other it's proven more effective," Miley said.
He added finding out students can have fun without using drugs and having that support by being with other substance-free kids nourishes a drug-free life. Lee Eaton will take part in a new student-led program called Project PANDA (prevent and neutralize drug and alcohol abuse) run by Community Health Center.
Miley said he feels community members look at the heroin crisis from a treatment-seeking perspective but said the prevention side is key.
"It is important that we focus on those kids who aren't using," Miley said. "Universal prevention is multi-faceted; there is no one way to do it."
He said scare tactics are ineffective based on studies of the adolescent brain. He said an example is how community members want to see a crash car on the lawn for prom promise week, but in actuality, it's a joke to the kids.
"The first thing they think, is 'that's crazy' and the second thing is 'but that's not going to happen to me,'" Miley said. "Emotion doesn't equal success when it comes to prevention."
Wallace said Community Health is at the top of her list when it comes to resources and credits the organization with doing "some of the best assessments in this county."
Miley said Community Health has the only outpatient detox center for adolescents in the county, which is an alternate resource with to the lack of available beds in rehab facilities. He said patients can be medically monitored in detox rooms during the day.
"This isn't a school problem, it's a community problem," Miley said. "Nordonia is blessed to have resources, but parents have to help. They can't only rely on the district.
"I truly believe we are doing everything we can, we are putting on the events, we are holding all the programming, we are giving the resources, we need that other shoe to drop where the community steps up and says we need to get behind this," Miley said.
Briana Barker: 330-541-9432