As the Opioid Crisis is sweeping across the country devastating lives, and in many cases ending them, parents are increasingly concerned about their children using drugs.
In Georgia, along with the rest of the country, marijuana continues to be the most popular drug of choice, with cocaine following second, and opiates third, though opiates abuse is growing at an alarming and deadly rate. The abuse of prescription drugs is also prevalent.
According to Georgia’s Attorney General’s office, between 1999 and 2015, more than 560,000 people in this country died due to drug overdoses – this is a death toll larger than the entire population of Atlanta.
“These staggering numbers have put drug overdoses as the leading cause of death in America, surpassing the combined totals for gun homicides and car crashes. Shockingly enough, sustaining this death toll is the equivalent of experiencing an event like September 11 every three weeks,” said Chris Carr, Attorney General of Georgia.
The Morgan County Sheriff’s Office employs a three-pronged approach to combating drug use in the community: investigation, prevention, and suppression. Law enforcement officials encourage parents to take an active role in keeping their kids drug-free.
“Don’t tolerate anything—not drinking alcohol, not smoking cigarettes, not smoking marijuana. The best way for our kids to beat drugs is never start using them to begin with,” said Sheriff Robert Markley. “Parents can’t show tolerance for any drug-use with their kids, because it may start with marijuana, but as they get older they will try harder and harder drugs.”
According to Officer Joseph Pritchett, a resource officer at Morgan County High School, the most popular drugs are among teenagers are marijuana, ecstasy, and abusing prescription pills such as Adderall, Ritalin, and Oxycodone.
Each of Morgan County’s schools have resource officers on site who employ various age-appropriate strategies to promote drug-free lives among students.
“We want to interact with the kids as we educate them about this because that is the best way to make them comfortable, but there is never an illusion that if they do something wrong that these officers won’t hold them accountable. That’s our big push in our program, to let kids know that there are consequences for their actions.”
While teachers and law enforcement officials help students understand the dangers and risks of drug-use, Markley believes parents can have the largest impact on the home front.
“We can’t always be our kids’ friends. Parents have to parent and sometimes make the difficult authoritative decision to keep their kids safe.”
Sergeant Keith Howard advises parents to talk frankly with their kids as well as establish rules for monitoring kids’ rooms, cars, belongings, and social media activity.
“You know, parents should let their kids know that as long as they live in their house with their parents paying for everything, parents have the right to see what’s happening,” said Howard.
As the abuse of prescription drugs rises, Markley and Howard recommend parents keep a close on eye on their prescription drugs in the house, secure them and dispose of them properly if not using them anymore. For parents who suspect their children are using drugs, drug-testing kits can be purchased at the local pharmacies.
Parents should keep an eye out for “red flags” that could indicate a teenager is using drugs, such as disconnected behavior, declining grades, a new group of friends, and secretive behavior.
“Sometimes, that is just teenagers being teenagers, but when these behaviors happen suddenly, it could point to drug use,” said Markley. “Parents just need to keep it in my mind.”
Should a parent confirm their child is actually using illegal drugs or abusing prescription medicines, Markley and Howard recommend several approaches to intervening.
“Parents have got to engage their kids,” said Markley. “Coordinate with other parents, know who your kids’ friends are and who their parents are. Up your involvement with your kids, change their environment if necessary, and take them to rehab for serious drug problems.”
“We’ve volunteered to allow parents to bring there kids to the jail to tour the inside so they can see what it’s like and where they could end up if they continue using drugs,” said Howard.
For more advanced drug abuse, Howard encouraged parents not to fear the juvenile system if that’s what it takes to get a teenager off drugs.
“Our system is really focused on rehabilitation more than anything,” said Howard. “Being arrested and going to jail isn’t the worse thing in the world when the alternative could be your child dying from a drug overdose”
Markley and Howard also recommended using Morgan County’s tip hotline, which can be used to anonymously report drug dealer, as well as other crimes, at (706) 342-0000.
“We are fortunate to live in a community where people really care about the kids. When the school, parents and our officers all work together, we do a good job at keeping our kids away from drugs and staying safe,” said Markley.