The youths sat at the front of the room, sharing how substance abuse had affected their lives.
One lost her 27-year-old brother to an overdose.
Another was removed from her drug-addicted mother.
Others have relatives or friends who are living with substance abuse problems.
Six of the panelists are members of a group called STAND Above the Influence. The acronym stands for Safe Teens AgaiNst Drugs.
The group is a team of youth leaders who aim to end youth substance abuse in Pasco County through education.
The seventh member of the panel, from PACE School for Girls, shared her personal struggles with drug addiction. She’s in recovery now.
Panel members assembled at the Land O’ Lakes Community Center to address a room filled with professionals who work in law enforcement, politics, substance abuse treatment and other professions involved in preventing substance abuse or responding to people with addictions.
The panel was made up of Jazmyn Perkins, Ariana Santillana, Mariah Morales, Jesseca Powell, Ormond Derr, Devin Lindsey-Brock and Destiny Dale.
They had plenty to say.
Parents should avoid sending mixed messages to their kids, panelists said. When parents tell their kids not to smoke, use drugs or drink — the message lacks credibility if the parents are engaged in those activities themselves.
Parents need to take the time to talk and listen to their kids — to really get to know them, one panelist said.
“Be open,” the panelist said. “Talk to me like I’m an adult.”
Kids and parents need to be able to talk — to not have screaming matches when they disagree, another panelist said.
Having crisis counselors and social workers available on campus would help, so that kids could turn to trained professionals, another panelist suggested.
It’s important for parents to understand their child’s point of view, another panelist said.
More work is needed to reduce the availability of drugs, not only at schools — but also in the home and the community.
Prescription pills and alcohol are often readily accessible in the home, panelists said.
Drugs are also available on school campuses, and kids develop code words to let other kids know that they have drugs for sale, panelists said.
Having occasional sweeps through the school with drug-sniffing canines can help uncover drugs that are hidden on campus, one panelist said.
Panelists also talked about why kids use drugs.
Some do it because of peer pressure and the desire to fit in.
Others use drugs to cope with whatever pressures they are facing.
Some want to experiment. Others, to rebel.
Drug use is often glamorized in popular culture, and Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter and other social media channels often give the appearance that people who are using drugs are having the time of their lives, some panelists said.
Those social media posts can make people who are at home watching television want to join the kids who seem to be having such a good time, panelists added.
But there are other ways to fit in, they said. Kids can join teams, or clubs, or find some other way to be involved and have fun.
Joining organizations such as STAND offers opportunities to attend conferences, give presentations and take part in other events, panelists said.
Behavioral health classes would help, too, a panelist said.
Kids need to have a better idea of the effect that substance abuse has on their brains and their bodies.
There’s also a lot to be said for having a chance to listen to someone who has suffered through the struggles of addiction and is now in recovery, panelists said.
The key, one panelist said, is “staying busy, staying focused.”
Another panelist offered this advice for avoiding drug use: “Do stuff that makes you happy.”
Published August 10, 2016