Talk to your kids about drugs and alcohol. Speak to them early and often. Don't wait until they're older. Don't wait for the perfect moment. Do it now, because alcohol, tobacco, marijuana and other drugs are accessible to youth in our community at a younger and younger age, and your kids -- our kids, if it indeed does take a village -- will need all the guidance and support they can get to be able to say no.
Pat Rhodes recently shared the story of her son, Trenton Crowell, with the Clarion (April 18). Despite her efforts to keep him involved in activities and out of trouble, Trenton died of a heroin overdose in 2009 at the age off 31, after years of struggling with addiction.
He started smoking marijuana in seventh grade.
"People have no idea how rampant it is here," Pat told the Clarion.
It's a story that puts a face on numbers and statistics we've been hearing for a while now. When the Kenai Peninsula Community Action Coalition first conducted a prevention needs assessment survey of Kenai Peninsula Borough students in 2006, the top risk factor it identified was the availability of drugs. The survey found that a majority of high school students felt alcohol, tobacco and marijuana were fairly easy to get; it also found that a significant number of sixth-graders felt the same way.
Officers with the Kenai and Soldotna police departments say they have seen an increase in marijuana at the middle schools.
"We've had a fair amount of interception of marijuana at the middle school recently," Kenai Police Investigator Mitch Langseth said. "That's what we're seeing in our schools in Kenai: that marijuana is accessible."
Langseth said that local schools don't necessarily have a drug problem, but said that parents need to be realistic about the possible presence of drugs in the community. He also noted that the first exposure to drugs very likely will come from your kids' peers, and not in some dark back alley.
"It's going to be your best friend at a party, probably when you're 15,16, 17 years old, saying, 'Come on, try this. I did and it's really easy.' That's the one that's going to be hard to say no to," Langseth said.
There are programs in place to help kids say no. Kenai and Soldotna police, and the State Troopers, run D.A.R.E. programs -- Drug Abuse Resistance Education -- in our local schools to teach kids about the dangers of alcohol and other drugs.
But the accessibility of drugs and alcohol among our youth persists. And as a parent, there will at some point come a time when you're not able to keep tabs on your children 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Make sure the message about drug use they've been hearing is the one you want them to hear. Repeat that message as often as you can, because your kids will be getting different signals everywhere else they turn.
Make sure you're talking to your kids about drugs.
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