BLAIRSVILLE — In an attempt to educate parents and the community of the prevalence of drug use in Indiana County, the Blairsville Community Crime Watch hosted a Teen Scene program Thursday evening at the Blairsville Italian Club to a crowd of approximately 40.
Directed by Courtney Hankinson, prevention specialist with the Armstrong Indiana Clarion Drug and Alcohol Commission, the presentation featured a mock setup of drug paraphernalia and drug-related items a parent might find in a typical teen’s bedroom. This was also accompanied by a lecture given by Hankinson illustrating statistics related to and signs and symptoms of teen drug use.
“It’s hard to talk to parents,” Hankinson said. “It’s hard to get to parents and to get parents to be here. You have to do things like this to say, ‘All right, if you see some of these things, like here’s what you can do.’”
During her initial presentation, Hankinson delved into the topic of why teenagers take drugs. She explained that teens make bad choices because their brains are still developing, and there is a disconnect between understanding what their behavior is doing and simply acting out.
Addiction is a disease, she explained, and occurs when the urge for a substance overrides an individual’s control over it. Tolerance for a substance builds over time, requiring more and more of the substance to get the same high. Eventually, the person simply wants the substance and doesn’t care who he or she is affecting to get to it.
According to Hankinson’s data, the youngest age nationally that teens are starting to get into substance abuse is 10 years old. In Indiana County, the age is more likely to be 12 or 13, she said. The top three substances individuals seek help for are alcohol, heroin and marijuana. While 22.4 million people in the country have an addiction, only about 10 percent receive treatment.
Parents cannot simply force a teen into drug treatment. According to Jill Gaston, officer in charge of the Blairsville Police Department, parents do not have a legal right to make their teens seek treatment.
In most cases, drug confidentiality supersedes medical confidentiality, according to Hankinson.
A teen can be made to seek treatment if it becomes a judicial issue, however, in cases where a parent has his or her teen arrested. Hankinson did not recommend that route.
Hankinson listed myriad symptoms associated with substance abuse that a parent could watch out for, including bloodshot eyes, changes in pupil size, changes in sleep habits, sudden weight changes, unusual smells, sudden psychological changes and reckless activity.
If someone thinks he or she knows someone with a substance abuse problem, he shouldn’t cover it up with excuses. Intervention should be done as soon as possible while the abuser is sober.
Hankinson moved on to the scene itself: A backdrop containing a table with more than 50 items that could give away substance abuse. Among them: containers that housed small compartments for hiding stashes, such as faux soda cans, water bottles, a clock and a power strip; potential inhalants such as Febreeze, correction fluid and whipped cream containers; baby pacifiers that could indicate use of club drugs; and over-the-counter medications that when used improperly could cause a high.
Also included were numerous drug-related T-shirts, hats, buttons and other items to illustrate how drug culture is becoming acceptable to society.
In the end, Hankinson provided different phone numbers a person could use to seek out help. The Armstrong-Indiana Crisis Line is (877) 333-2470. To report underage drinking, people can call (888) UNDER 21 (863-3721).
Hankinson explained Teen Scene is a recent addition to the drug and alcohol commission’s arsenal to combat drug abuse.
“We actually just started this not too long ago,” she said. “We had a drug panel meeting in Homer City about a month ago. That was the first one we had. But Armstrong County has a similar program, so what we’re trying to do is get more information about how to get help so we can get more information out there.”
Crime Watch President Connie Constantino explained she reached out to the drug and alcohol commission to help illustrate what the committee is fighting for.
“The first thing I thought, because drugs are the first thing we’re concerned about, because of the syringes and that, I started looking at what avenues I had available, where I could get information,” Constantino said. “I went to a town hall meeting last year … and the drug and alcohol commission was there, and I thought, ‘You know what, they’ve got to have something.’
“And it’s amazing what they have. And they’re more than willing to come out and give their time and do it.”