Dabbling in drugs and alcohol: As addiction grows among Idaho teens, schools find it difficult to pay for treatment services.
Some parents are providing the booze for their students' senior celebrations, say school officials. Although these parents tell school officials that it is safer if their child and their friends celebrate with a few drinks in a controlled environment, school counselors say this is only one of the many reasons why Alcohol is the most abused drug among Idaho teens. Idaho KIDS COUNT, a non-partisan group that promotes polices to improve childhood outcome, worked with Boise State University to study the state of Alcohol and drug addiction among Idaho teens. The results of the study, which were released in a report last week, stated that more teens are using Alcohol than previously reported. However, schools are finding it more difficult to provide support services as drug and Alcohol addiction among teens continues to grow. The Twin Falls School District will lose its only treatment specialist at the end of this school year, and the district is still struggling to write four separate grants that will provide it with enough money to hire another part-time specialist. Sherri Molina, the outgoing treatment specialist, provides schools with early intervention programs to help students kick drug and Alcohol habits before they grow into a serious addiction. "In the past, drug and Alcohol addiction has remained steady in the Twin Falls area, but over the past couple of years I've really seen it starting to grow," Molina said. "I think it's growing because there is very, very easy access to drugs and alcohol."
She said the number of Twin Falls High School students offered drugs or Alcohol has increased more than 3 percent from 2005 to 2006. Only about 54 percent of high school students were never offered drugs or Alcohol last year, she said. Molina said Alcohol remains the most prevalent drug because of its availability to teens. "What we have seen is that some parents see Alcohol as right-of-passage, and some even buy the Alcohol for the parties," Molina said. "They feel that it's safer if the kids to drink in a controlled environment, but this makes it really difficult for us to help that student who might have a problem." Nationwide, underage drinking costs the nation about $62 billion per year. Last year, about 3,200 teen deaths were associated with Alcohol use. "If we want to improve the health of our state through reduced insurance costs, reduced physician and hospital visits and lower mortality rates at younger ages, then we must reduce the rates of substance abuse," said Dr. Mary Pritchard, director of Family Studies at Boise State University. One of Pritchard's recommendations to curb growing substance abuse problems in Idaho is to promote early and comprehensive education for parents and children.
But that is exactly what the Twin Falls School District and many other school districts are struggling to provide. "There definitely is a need for her (Molina's) position in our district," said Mary Lu Barry, secondary programs director for the Twin Falls School District. "But what we have to do is find the money for it." She said the district is in the process of writing four different grants to provide the money to hire a specialist next year. She said the job description will probably change in order to meet the requirements of each grant.
Molina had served part-time as the district's treatment specialist, as well as working full-time as the clinical director for Sitman Inc. She will continue working full-time for Sitman after she leaves her position with the school district. "I ask myself the question all the time about what the school's role is in providing treatment," Molina said. "Although it's true that parents play the largest role in preventing addiction, schools also have the kids for eight hours a day. The problem is that they are focusing less on the health of the student and more on the requirements for No Child Left Behind." Times-News writer Joshua Palmer covers education. He can be reached at [email protected] or at (208) 420-0526. Addiction among Idaho teens: Alcohol is currently the most abused drug by Idaho teens, with most students trying it for the first time in middle school. More than 50 percent used Alcohol, and almost 40 percent reported that they currently use alcohol. About 25 percent of Idaho teens use tobacco products, such as cigarettes and chewing tobacco. Almost 20 percent currently use marijuana. The Idaho Department of Corrections reported that 71 percent of teen inmates have a drug or Alcohol addiction.
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