Substance Use Prevention Awareness in Schools

Written by Logan Yelderman, MA
Youth substance abuse can start at an early age. Thirteen percent of 8th graders reported using marijuana in the past year and a little more than 10% of 8th graders admitted using alcohol in the past 30 days. In other words, about 1 in 10 8th graders reported engaging in substance use during the year, and this is likely lower than the actual rate of use among 8th graders. These rates are substantially higher for 10th and 12th graders, which is likely a result of being older and around substance use longer. Substance abuse among youth ages 12-17 is typically associated with peer networks, and youth often report that they acquire drugs from their friends. School environments provide youth with an opportunity and means to gain access to drugs or to other youth who can supply them with drugs. Although schools often have strict regulations on drug possession and use and have official personnel (e.g., school resource officers) in place to help reduce and prevent drugs on campus, these efforts do not appear to ameliorate the problem fully. Not only are drugs present in school, but they are easily accessible. In one survey, more than half of the youth reported that drugs were sold, used, or kept at school, suggesting that schools are high drug trafficking areas for youth. Further, youth claim that getting drugs at school is easy, and many youth know classmates who use drugs. While not all students are interested in finding and purchasing drugs, the mere presence of drugs increases the chance of students’ exposure to drugs. In fact, about 1 in 10 youth reported being approached by someone selling drugs in their school. The combination of peer pressure and easy access to drugs create school environments that can prove to be harmful for youth. 
Fortunately, schools are also target rich environments for directed interventions to help prevent substance use. Often, schools promote drug and alcohol prevention messages, which can lower drug and alcohol use by more than 30%. This is why substance abuse prevention campaigns, such as celebrating substance abuse awareness month and red ribbon week, are important and can have significant impacts on youth. Providing opportunities for youth to be educated on drug use and its effects creates better school environments, improves youths’ lives in general, and addresses an important and relevant problem.
Juvenile drug court (JDC) youth often face similar school environments leading up to the time of their first offense. Once arrested and diverted to JDC, youth face new situations and opportunities regarding their education. Understanding the partnership between JDCs and schools can benefit JDC youth when collaboration promotes both treatment and education. The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges suggests several strategies to help JDCs prioritize education for their youth and effectively collaborate with schools.
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