A recent study at four schools in Wayne County found “alcohol is the drug of choice” for students, and the strongest predictor that a student would begin abusing alcohol is “parental attitudes favorable to drug use.”

A recent study at four schools in Wayne County found “alcohol is the drug of choice” for students, and the strongest predictor that a student would begin abusing alcohol is “parental attitudes favorable to drug use.”

The survey, given to students in 6th, 8th, 10th and 12th grades, showed that one in three high school students reported drinking and one in four reported binge drinking within 30 days prior to taking the survey.

The statistics are alarming, but it’s not just alcohol. Drug and alcohol abuse across the county is becoming a growing problem, say officials. A rise in the use of marijuana, synthetics and prescription medications brings to light a problem that is reaching epidemic proportions, they say.

The Wayne Coalition on Alcohol and Drugs, in cooperation with the Substance Abuse and Mental Heath Association, has begun a series of Town Hall Meetings to address the problem. A panel discussion last Thursday called “Drug Abuse — What’s Happening to Our Community?” brought together experts from law enforcement, health care, schools and treatment services to talk to and educate the community.

“I would rather prevent a crime from occurring than investigate one,” Sheriff Barry Virts said.
Virts was joined on the panel by Bill Fox, director of treatment services at Finger Lakes Addictions Counseling and Referral Agency; Chris Thomas, program supervisor of substance abuse services at Wayne Behavorial Health; and Laura Moore, a certified physicians assistant at Arcadia Family Practice.

Fueling jails
Of the 130 people incarcerated daily at the Wayne County Jail, Virts said, about 90 percent of them are substance abusers or show abuse indicators.

“Many times an arrest is a rescue,” he said.

Many people are seeking help for their addiction or are trying to come to terms with the trigger that starts them down the path towards abuse — an arrest can get them that help. Most addicts don’t start with the hard stuff, like cocaine or heroin, Virts said — it begins with huffing (using household inhalents), then marijuana, then alcohol, then cocaine and heroin.

Virts is no stranger to the effects addiction can have on a family. He is struggling to help his son with addiction, showing addiction does not discriminate.

Treatment options
FLACRA has one of its five outpatient clinics right in Newark. Today there are upwards of 170 people in treatment, Fox said, and another 30 in the evaluation phase preparing to enter the program. Those entering the program often show signs of depression and anxiety and were sent to the program through work, the criminal justice system or social services. Fox said they treat a variety of addictions, but alcohol and marijuana rank highest for abuse in the county, followed closely by synthetics and opiate painkillers.

Synthetics addiction is a growing problem among youth, the panel concurred.

“KIds think because they buy them over the counter, they are OK,” Virts said. “But they are very dangerous.”

Synthetics, commonly known as K2 and Spice, are drugs that when consumed cause effects that mimic marijuana. But these drugs are known to cause seizures, paranoia, among other mental illnesses, and even death. Virts said as soon as the FDA pulls a synthetic off drug store shelves, a chemist has changed one compound and produced a whole new synthetic with effects yet unknown until testing can be done.

“More and more kids are going to the hospital because of hallucinations due to K2 and Spice use,” Thomas said. “It’s like lighting your brain on fire. The damage on the brain can’t be reversed.”
Thomas treats many youth in Wayne County and has found drug potency has increased over the years. Where it used to take 30 days to become clean after marijuana use — now it takes 60 days. Marijuana has become a cash crop, Thomas added.

But it’s not just marijuana that draws youth. Kids are mixing OTC 5-hour pills with energy drinks. Warnings on these energy drinks advise consumption of no more than two a day, but kids are drinking upwards of six, Thomas said.

“Whatever kids can do to escape the reality of life, they are doing it now,” he said.

More alarming is the use of prescription medications taken from medicine cabinets and distributed at school by fellow students. Wayne County prescribers write more oxycodone scripts than the five surrounding counties combined, Moore said. With prescription drugs, Moore said, what often happens is that the medication isn’t used completely, whether it’s because the patient was feeling better or the pill count exceeded what was needed. Those drugs sit in medicine cabinets where they are easily accessible to youth looking for a quick high.

The rise in drug abuse is cultural, Fox said. Society is always looking for wellness, drug addicts see drugs as a wellness.

“We live in a society where you are encouraged to take a drug when you have problem, whether it’s to sleep or for a headache,” Fox said. “It’s our culture.”

Fighting back
With so much temptation, parents may wonder what they can do protect their kids. Public education groups like SADD and MADD have made a difference, Fox said. Parents are encouraged to become active in their community by joining a coalition.

“Take the power of one and make it the power of a group,” Fox said.

Parents can also make sure their prescription medications are locked up where their kids can’t get to them, and get rid of the drugs no longer needed. Drug “take-back days” are being held regularly throughout the county and often at local pharmacies.

A good, healthy family is one of the best combats against drug use. Children at a young age are swayed by parental pressure, Nelson Acquilano, executive director at the Council on Alcoholism and Addictions of the Finger Lakes, said. As children grow, they feel the pressure of media and peers, but that family influence will always be there to help them work through it.

“As a parent, you have to be a role model,” Virts said. “Talk to your children, tell them to be drug free. Your job is to be a parent, to set down the rules, set down expectations, and, most importantly, be consistent.”