Trevor Andrews, Reporter
Alcohol and drug use continues to be a prevalent issue among teens in schools across the nation.
According to CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) about half of 9th through 12th grade students reported having used marijuana; 4-10, 9th through 12th grade students reported having tried cigarettes and among seniors, close to 2-in10 reported using prescription medicine without a prescription.
Senior High Principle Jeff Gilbertson said that some students make the mistake of trying drugs as a way to escape from their problems.
“Some students use drugs because they have access (to them) unfortunately. Other students may also use drugs because they self-medicate for depression, and or social dysfunction. Other times it is curiosity or peer pressure,” Gilbertson said.
He added that he believes drug trends are likely to change, and that it’s his experience that fewer students use alcohol as compared to vaping and doing other illegal substances.
Gilbertson said that if a student is suspected of having an illegal substance on them or in their possession, school officials have the right, “to search your backpack without consent.”
“If you know a friend who is using drugs, I would talk to them about it, but there is no shame in reaching out to an adult, and informing them that this friend needs help,” Gilbertson said.
Another option would be for the student to speak to a school official.
“You can report drug use confidentially with any administrator, counselor, and or teacher in the building. There is not one adult in this building that would not help a student in that situation,” Gilbertson said. “I have some students who made some poor decisions change their life around and that’s very rewarding to me.”
He added that another resource for students is to speak to their assigned counselor.
Gilbertson said that in the health and physical education courses students are taught about drug safety and that the school utilizes the knowledge of the school’s SRO’s.
“Our School Resource Officer identifies students that are at risk and we do individual one-on-one teaching with students. We never stop fighting for our students,” Gilbertson said.
School Resource Officer Wes Tjaden said if students bring illegal substances into a school, the punishment varies.
“There are several different punishments for students who use drugs,” he said. “If a student is caught with cannabis, they can get a citation for possession of marijuana of less than an ounce.
“First offense for marijuana is a $300 fine, possession of drug paraphernalia is $100. If it is a second offense possession of marijuana (the fine) is $400, third offense is $500 and then it stays at $500 from third offense on,” Tjaden said.
He added that in many cases, students will receive a referral to a drug diversion program of possibly be placed on prohibition and take specialized drug prevention and education classes.
Tjaden said that it’s been his experience that many students see and hear on different social media platforms that drugs are not harmful and some also try drugs out of curiosity.
“Or they hear that it might help with depression or sadness. A lot of times students will try experimenting with drugs,” Tjaden said.
“The hard part, is a lot of times, once they try it they like how they feel, initially, and they keep trying it, and that’s when it becomes a problem,” Tjaden said.
He said as an SRO, he sees his role in a couple of ways.
“Our first role is to help out with the criminal side, obviously in life there are consequences for actions, and we have to do a citation or a referral for charges to the country attorney’s office.
“Our second role is to educate the kids. There are so many things on social media that are just not true,” Tjaden said.
He added that students’ brains don’t fully develop until they reach their mid-20s, “so drugs can affect their brains and how it forms in the long term, because the brain will start to rewire itself to think it has to have that drug dysfunction.”
Tjaden said that students who are using drugs tend to have more life issues.
“Students who use drugs on a regular basis tend to run away more, their grades tend to fall because they aren’t able to concentrate,” he said.
“Not all the time does a citation help students fix the problems. Sometimes you need counseling to help students not use drugs.”
Tjaden said one of the best ways to help a student is for their friends or adults in their lives to know the warning signs of drug abuse.
“Identifying students that are at risk of drug use could include a change of behavior, loss of interest in sports or activities, not attending school or skipping classes along with a drop in grades,” Tjaden said. “There are also some physical indicators like weight loss, not keeping clean, etc.,” Tjaden said.
“The specialized drug classes teach the school age kid how to avoid further drug use, help them figure out why they are using, tell them the truth about the drugs and what they do to the body and brain, and fill in the gaps to help them get off drugs if they have already started,” Tjaden said.
In Grand Island the drug classes are taught by outside agencies like the Central Nebraska Council on Alcoholism and Addictions and that there are times when ex-addicts or people who have special training in drug and alcohol addiction counseling will teach the classes, Tjaden said.
Janie Mick, substance use education instructor at the Central Nebraska Council on Alcoholism and Addictions said those facing drug problems need to make a change in their life.
“The moment they can change – it can be a lifestyle related illness – that we have to look at it as, and treat it just like if we had diabetes, or heart disease,” she said adding that young people use drugs for the same reasons adults use drugs.
“When I do the Marijuana Ed Classes, I’ll always ask that question, and I find that adults use drugs for the same reason kids do, anxiety, depression, to escape, to fit in, or just to try it,” Mick said. “It was an eye opener for the other kids to hear another kid say what they’ve been through and it’s not a good route to go down,” Mick said.
Mick said that the sooner children learn about the dangers of drugs the better off they will be as young adults.
Drug prevention education classes at the CNCAA are free of charge and include Teen Power, Discovery Kids, Kids Power and MADD.
Those taking the Prime for Life classes (MIP/DUI) along with the Marijuana Education classes must pay a fee, Mick said.
“However, if a person is required to attend an alcohol or drug class due to a problem with the law that has been caused due to substance and Juvenal Diversion is involved it’s usually paid for as part of Juvenal Diversion,” she added.
For more information about the class, go to cncaa.net or call 308-385-5520. Students wanting more information about the school’s policy about drug use can look on page 24 of the GIPS handbook.