DYLAN J. BAKER
The Manchester Journal
MANCHESTER -- The youngest person arrested for drugs during "Operation Country Strike" last Wednesday in Bennington County was a 17-year-old.
In a statewide Vermont student substance abuse report in 2009-2010 completed by the Vermont Department of Health, drug abuse goes down as far as the fourth grade level. A total of 5,700 students are in the report ranging from Pre-Kindergarten to high school. Tobacco abuse by one student started in fourth grade, with alcohol starting in fifth grade, and marijuana use starting in sixth grade.
Ninety-seven schools reported student assistance data and provided nearly 43,000 students with in-school substance abuse prevention and intervention services. About 11 percent of those students needed more in-depth services.
Linda Mitchell, student health coordinator at the Dorset School, said that Dorset focuses on giving students the knowledge of not just the consequences, but the skills to help prevent drug use.
"With prevention it is educating our students about the consequences so they are informed," she said. "We are giving them the skills, not just the knowledge. Decision making skills, problem solving skills, assertiveness skills. Getting them to set goals for the future. All of this helps in teaching students what the consequences are and really showing them that drug use could potentially ruin their lives."
Mitchell also said that parents, not just peers, play a vital role in whether or not a kid decides to use drugs or not. Mitchell offers parenting classes on the subject of drug abuse a few times a year for anyone who needs help with the issue.
"Parents are very important in the process of prevention," she said, "and prevention is making sure good things happen, not that bad things don’t." It was not until seventh grade that harder drugs started to show up, according to the state’s substance abuse report.
Mushrooms, ecstasy, and amphetamines, along with the drugs previously mentioned showed up at the seventh grade level. It was not until ninth grade, the start of high school, when drugs such as cocaine showed up. Heroin was not in the report.
The two most prevalent drugs in the report were marijuana and alcohol, but with cocaine and other types of drugs showing up in the report there is some cause for concern.
Sandra Birch, a licensed independent clinical social worker at Burr and Burton Academy, has been aware of the drug problem at the high school level and said it’s a nationwide problem.
"Unfortunately, no high school in Vermont or, for that matter, the United States, is immune to drug and alcohol issues," she said. "We work hard to prevent substances from infiltrating our campus life, but we also recognize that there is a lot of activity that takes place on weekends and after hours that is beyond our control."
According to the State Level Report from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health completed in 2010, Vermont ranked fourth in the United States in use of illicit drugs other than marijuana for ages 12 and up. Among 18 to 25 year-old’s, Vermont ranks first with 12.7 percent using hard drugs. Vermont also had the highest prevalence of cocaine use at 10 percent.
"We are disappointed that the drug culture is so prevalent in this state, and it illustrates the importance that this is a community issue, not simply a school issue," said Birch.
BBA attempts to educate students on the issue of substance abuse and how it can negatively effect their lives. The school brings in outside speakers to speak in assembly, offers a wellness curriculum that covers drug and alcohol education, and provides an environment for students to talk to nurses to receive support. They use a breathalyzer at all school dances, and work with law enforcement, parents, and students to create a open dialogue on the issue, Birch said.
The National Survey on Drug Use and Health is a primary source of monitoring both state-wide and national trends.
The Northshire is starting to really combat this issue of drug abuse with the leading example being "Operation Country Strike" that netted more than 64 people involved in the sale or consumption of illicit drugs.
Although an "Operation High School Strike" is far from likely, Burr and Burton Academy is always raising awareness on this issue, Birch said.
"My personal thoughts [on the drug bust] are that it demonstrates that law enforcement is dealing with the problem that exists; the bust made me feel good about our ability to reduce the amount of hard drugs coming into our community," said Birch.
In the 2011 Vermont Youth Risk Behavior Survey Report (YRBS) -- the latest available -- done for the schools Bennington-Rutland Supervisory Union, as well as Burr and Burton Academy, 41 percent of students reported ever using marijuana, seven percent before the age of 13.
Three percent of students reported using cocaine. Three percent of students also reported using heroin. 19 percent of students using drugs reported that they were offered, sold, or given an illegal drug on school property.
These number are down from the report done in 2009 which had cocaine use at five percent, heroin use at four percent. The percentage of students who have tried marijuana remained steady at 40 percent.