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Town hall sheds light on drug abuse in teens

Town hall sheds light on drug abuse in teens
Town hall sheds light on drug abuse in teens | former meth addict-turned motivational speaker David Parnell, Weakley County General Sessions Judge Tommy Moore, Baptist Hospital Behavioral Health director Mike Hoffman and Weakley County Director of Schools Randy Frazier, Town Hall, Weakley County Prevention Coalition

Town Hall panelists (from left) former meth addict-turned motivational speaker David Parnell, Weakley County General Sessions Judge Tommy Moore, Baptist Hospital Behavioral Health director Mike Hoffman and Weakley County Director of Schools Randy Frazier

Parents and students had an opportunity to gather for an informal, yet informative session Monday evening, to arm themselves with knowledge about trending issues concerning drugs and alcohol facing students today. The event, dubbed as a “Town Hall” meeting, was hosted by the Weakley County Prevention Coalition on the campus of the University of Tennessee at Martin.
Several students from Students Creating Change were in attendance. Students Creating Change is a student-led organization comprised of Weakley County high school students coming together for the common purpose to better their school and community by addressing underage and binge drinking, drug use, violence and bullying. Currently, Westview and Dresden high schools are in the beginning phases of forming their own Students Creating Change chapters.
Weakley County General Sessions Court Judge Tommy Moore gave the opening remarks, and then introduced the Crossroads Teen Center’s Step Crew Entertainment for a special performance. The step crew consisted of high school students who are involved in Students Creating Change.
Randy Frazier, director of Weakley County Schools, led the discussion on trends in local school use and abuse issues.
“Unfortunately all situations regarding addiction start at some point, and a lot of times, it’s at a school age,” said Frazier. “Drugs and alcohol do not discriminate. We see our very best students, we see our very best athletes, we see our children who are from broken homes, and those who are growing up in troubled situations, all having issues with drugs and alcohol.”
Frazier informed the audience about the results from a survey recently conducted in the Weakley County high schools. Of the students polled:
• 75 percent of students reported they have a friend with a type of alcohol issue
• 28 percent reportedly had more than five drinks in the last 30 days
• The No. 1 source for alcohol is at parties
• 40 percent of those parties allegedly had parents in attendance
• 11 percent said they have come to school either drunk or high
• 30 percent said they have a friend who was taking un-prescribed medication
• 21 percent of students claimed they knew someone who gave out or sold prescription medicine
• 7 percent of students reported they had a monthly prescription of some kind
There is a law that prohibits drug and alcohol use on school property. If a student is found violating that policy, there is zero tolerance, which means they are removed from school for one year.
One major trend in the Weakley County high schools is the use of marijuana. This school year, since October, there have been more than 30 cases reported. Students in all four high schools have been found in violation of the policy.
“Students have said that the reason they use marijuana is because it is the cheapest thing they can purchase and it is easily accessible,” said Frazier.
Frazier discussed three parts that must come together in order to attack this problem. First, at the school level, there is a responsibility for the administration and teachers to get to know the students to know what is happening.
Second, as a community, people should be on the lookout for unusual things, such as unusual student traffic in homes, unrecognized adults in vehicles with lots of students nearby, and even unusual gatherings in parks.
Third, parents and guardians need to play detective with their children’s lives. Parents need to know where their children are going and about the background of their children’s friends.
“I know with children, that they don’t want you to butt into their business, but it’s very important to do that,” said Frazier. “Sitting in front of my team and myself is much better than having a knock on the door with a police officer there telling you that your child has been involved in an accident that is drug- or alcohol-related. We have that responsibility as parents.”
Mike Hoffman, director of Behavioral Health at Baptist Memorial Hospital, spoke on the physical effects of underage drinking.  
“Alcohol affects EVERY organ system in the body either directly or indirectly,” said Hoffman. “Certain factors will influence the areas affected most and the degree of damage noted. Genetics, amount, duration, and patterns of drinking are among those factors.”
“One of the problems that we’ve seen through the years, particularly with teenagers, is when they binge drink. When they do drink, they make up for lost time. That can be more detrimental to the body than regular drinks can.”
Hoffman discussed how affects the following systems in the human body: the stomach, intestines, pancreas, liver, heart/vascular system, endocrine and reproductive systems, and the brain and neurological systems.
David Parnell, author, public speaker, consultant, and advocate for drug-endangered children, delivered the keynote address.
According to the Weakley County Prevention Coalition’s website, Parnell spent 23 years abusing drugs. For seven years of that, he was addicted to methamphetamine, which is a highly-addictive stimulant that severely affects the brain. Under its influence, he even attempted suicide by shooting himself. Though he survived, he sustained severe injuries, and to this day he still occasionally undergoes reconstructive surgery.
Parnell focused on the “true” victims – the children – who are forced to live with drug addicts.
“I come at this from an angle of methamphetamine. That was my demon that just about killed me and my family, and this is what I’ve dedicated my life to fight against,” said Parnell.
According to Parnell, in 2010, Tennessee was first in the nation for producing meth. Police have been finding meth labs in children’s bedrooms, and even several instances where parents are having their children help in the manufacturing of meth.
Seventy-three percent of child abuse cases in the United States is substance-abuse related, and in Tennessee, there has been a 500 percent increase in child abuse in the past 20 years.
Parnell talked about the numerous instances where children have starved to death from the lack or care by parents who were addicted to meth.
Over 90 percent of children will test positive for meth within four hours from being removed from the homes with meth labs.
“It’s up to us to protect the children in our homes and communities,” said Parnell. “Together we can make a difference.”
The town hall meeting concluded with a brief question and answer session. Brian Harris, executive director for Martin Housing Authority, encouraged anyone who is interested in joining to help the cause to email him at weakleyprevention@gmail.com.
“This is just the beginning,” said Harris. “This is a big problem and we can’t do it by ourselves.”
Several school nurses were in attendance at the meeting, including Beth Kempton, a nurse at Westview High School and Weakley County School Nurse Supervisor.
“We go into the classroom and talk to the children about the damages of underage drinking, tobacco and other drug use,” said Kempton.
“We try to encourage the children to help out with the student-run program, and to get the word out to other students. We want to get them excited about it.”

WCP 5.03.12

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