Student group encourages peers to abstain from substance abuse

The Cabell County Substance Abuse Prevention Program partners with students from schools all across the district to educate and help prevent them from being susceptible to substance abuse.

Student volunteers participate in activities such as peer-to-peer health classes about things par-ents may not be comfortable talking with their kids about.

Alternatively, the CCSAPP will teach parents how to talk to their children about these tough subjects.

“Some parents have a tough times being realistic with their kids about drugs and sharing their experiences, fearing their children may view them as a hypocrite,” said organizer, Michelle Perdue.

The kids hold a summit once a year and come up with long term plans to help their communities. For instance, this past September each school picked a funded partner to raise awareness for organizations such as the Red Cross.

Kids then tried to educate the community on what these organizations do for them.

“So many people think the Red Cross is just about blood drives, when in reality, it is doing so much more for the community,” Perdue said. “The summit and other projects show that, even though they may be from different schools and may move out of West Virginia, Cabell County will always be their home and they should try to invest and give back to the community.”

The CCSAPP is responsible for giving students in public schools surveys such as the PRIDE survey and the West Virginia climate survey, which ask questions related to drug use and gives programs a good idea of problem areas within their schools.

They also introduced alcoholEDU, a program all Marshall freshmen are required to take, to the administration.

Students are joined by a coalition of about 40 people who come from all walks of life.

Businessmen, media personalities, local government, religious leaders and other members of the community strategize and use assessments to figure out problem areas within the community and ways they can help.

Unlike rehabilitation clinics and some other programs, the CCSAPP focuses more on prevention and education than recovery and scare tactics.

“Only focusing on treatment and recovery is like putting a Band-Aid on a gaping wound,” Perdue said. “Every one dollar we spend on prevention is 20 saved on treatment”.

Evidenced based programming is used to educate kids on long-term effects and to “Just think twice.”

“Young people are not invincible, many just don’t comprehend that their brains are developing until their mid 20’s and that long term drug use in that time can lead developmental problems or addiction,” Perdue said. “Some are just predisposed to addiction due to genes or family history. Some kids don’t make the connection that heroin and prescription pills are similar due to them both being opioids, this is the kind of information we are trying to get to our students.”

As time progressed and more people started to agree that the war on drugs failed, the CCSAPP adapted its strategy.

“Just say no was a good concept, but not well executed,” Perdue said. “Most kids don’t want to feel left out from their groups of friends and scare tactics did not help the cause. We don’t tell kids they are going to do a drug one time and be an addict, this program is about making sure the kids are protected, receiving the right education, and that they don’t derail their life.”

While heroin is a serious issue in the community, the CCSAPP says the drug of choice in Cabell County is alcohol, beating the national average.

“Some of it can be attributed to Huntington being a college town, but many people don’t consider alcohol a drug,” Perdue said. “You always hear the phrase ‘drugs and alcohol,’ when really it’s all drugs.”

The program has had some success, lowering drug use in the area below the national average, but has also seen rises in other areas.

“Marijuana use among teens has increased as the perception of harm has been reduced due to legalization in some states. Personally, I am more for decriminalization over legalization due to the fact there would be much less opportunity for youths to acquire it,” Perdue said. “Alcohol is 21 and up yet kids don’t seem to have a problem getting it and most beer commercials are aimed at teens, so I could see the same thing happening with the legalization of marijuana.”

Perdue said there have been challenges due to the increasing popularity of marijuana use.

“It has become more and more difficult over the past two years to talk to kids about marijuana and make them realize that you aren’t going to OD on it, but you also shouldn’t be driving,” Perdue said. “I don’t define it as a gateway drug the way you usually hear that term.  I look at it as more of a gateway to unsafe situation, such as getting comfortable talking to a drug dealer.”

Donations are accepted and can be sent to the United Way office. Volunteers are also always welcomed.

Those interested can contact the United Way through email and phone, or stop by the office.

The Community Coalition also holds meetings open to the public every third Wednesday of the month at the United Way of River Cities.

Troy Alexander can be contacted at [email protected]