“One of my friends … his older brother overdosed. It’s a really tough situation,” said Lakes, who is a leader of the high school’s anti-drug “youth coalition,” which is among the most aggressive student groups in the county with membership growing each year and now numbering more than a 100 students at the high school.
Countywide, opioid abuse among teens is a relatively small percentage of the overall problem, according to local law enforcement.
But among adults in Butler County it’s killing in historic numbers.
The drug — either in the form of a prescription pill or brown liquid injected by a needle — has killed thousands of people across the country, and nearly 800 in Butler County from 2012 through July 2018. The number of people becoming hooked on the drug has skyrocketed, and state and federal lawmakers have made more and more money available to local communities to address the issue.
Unintentional overdose deaths in the state have increased by nearly 33 percent from 2015 to 2016 as more than 4,000 Ohioans died in 2016. Most of those deaths were because of powerful opioids like fentanyl and carfentanil, which are now commonly found in heroin.
Opioid abuse has reached some of Lakes’ classmates, he said, pointing to unusual requests some injured athletes get from their friends.
“One of my friend’s has a good stance on drug abuse and he is not for it. He got injured in a sport and ended up being proscribed certain pain killers. He recovered pretty soon (after) and had extra pills left over and he had people approach him and ask him for the extras and trying to take advantage of that situation,” recalled Lakes.
SCHOOLS ENCOURAGE STUDENTS TO JOIN FIGHT
It’s an epidemic that pays no heed to school district boundaries nationwide, and Butler and Warren counties are no exemption.
In Warren County’s Franklin High School, students have participated in a SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) program where they meet several times a year to promote awareness about substance abuse and learning about the consequences when students make destructive decisions.
Jordan Rogers, a sophomore, became involved in the SADD program as a freshman last year. She said the program promotes Red Ribbon Week and every few years, there is a mock crash scene at the school to show what could happen if someone is under the influence while driving.
“It’s still a really big problem,” she said. “More students need to get involved in SADD to learn more about avoiding those consequences.”
She said there were 20 students in the program last year and this year she think’s there will be more students involved.
Rogers said in health class, students do a research project on drugs and substance abuse, which helps them to learn what those consequences could be.
“It really helps because we can see what happens when taking drugs and mixing them with other things,” she said.
Rogers said the SADD program creates awareness as students do a lot of things and while they cannot necessarily make students stop abusing substances, it does show them what could happen.
Karin Back, a health teacher at Franklin High School, said her husband is a Franklin police officer and that they have discussions at home about what he’s seeing on the streets and what the current substance abuse trends are.
“Once there is awareness about one drug, another comes up,” she said. “There will always be opioids and pain pills that people get addicted to after being injured. But it’s the designer-made drugs that are killing people in our community.”
Back said when she started as a teacher 21 years ago, the drugs being used were marijuana and cocaine as well as alcohol. “But I’ve never seen nothing like this before (with the opioid epidemic).”
She thinks it’s more prevalent now because of social media, news reports and people videoing overdoses.
Back said teens are curious and want to experience things as they are trying to fit in, trying to be cool or are being rebellious. She said they’re seeing others use drugs and getting addicted but they’re not seeing the consequences.
In her health classes, Back breaks the students up into small groups where do research on substance abuse. She said last year, the students produced videos as part of the group presentations. Topics include the history of drugs and drug abuse, what the main uses of drugs are, what the street names of drugs are, the short and long-term effects of drug and substance abuse, and statistics for teen usage.
Back also advises the SADD program and their activities. She said school counselors also have different counseling and support groups to help students who are struggling and helping family members understand the issues.
Medical and mental-health experts continue to scramble to find the right intervention programs to help dissuade young people from falling into the addiction they see in their adult family members.
Ohio Rep. Robert Sprague, R-Findlay, said education of youth is key to prevention.
“First of all, they get a valid prescription for a medical prescription or in some cases they get pills from friends and family; 75 percent of kids say they get started on prescription pain killers end up getting their pain killers from their mom and dad’s medicine cabinet, their grandparents’ medicine cabinet, pilfer them, steal them. And so, that’s the core of our problem,” said Sprague.
But the strongest potential solution my lie within that most powerful influencing factor to most teens — peer groups.
Fairfield High School has one of the more active student-based anti-drug groups with more than 200 members — most seniors who volunteer to work with younger students — answering the questions of the curious and helping those most in need find the proper social or health services for dealing with addictions.
“The power of youth led prevention is in the ability of those who are strong in their beliefs to make it easier for those who are not strong to choose wellness,” explained Deborah Neyer, executive director of the Fairfield Prevention Coalition, who also works closely with Fairfield High School’s student group.
“Our youth coalition is one of the largest youth-led prevention groups in the state of Ohio,” said Neyer.
This article contains additional reporting by staff writers Michael D. Pitman and Jackie Osborne.