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Kids and questions: District students respond to at-risk behavior survey

June 16, 2010 - By Leah Yanuszeski, Review intern

It takes about five minutes to order at a drive-through, scrape ice off your car in the winter, or drive through downtown Lake Orion.

According to a sophomore at LOHS, it also takes about five minutes to get weed from a dealer that attends the high school.

And according to a survey of all eleventh grade LOHS students, 23.7 percent used marijuana in the past thirty days of the survey.

The survey, titled Michigan Profile for Healthy Youth (MiPHY), was handed to every seventh, ninth, and eleventh grader in the district in January of 2010.

Questions covered topics such as drug use, violence, sexual behavior, community and family domain, as well as depression and physical activity. Results were compiled, and were compared to national data from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS). The survey is given on every even year, therefore trend data is given due to the same classes being polled.

The sophomore, to remain anonymous, has tried weed, ecstasy, acid, has experimented with prescription painkillers, and drank at parties. Why? "People bring it to you. I kinda never thought if I did it one time it would hurt me," she said.

Michelle Novak, the substance abuse counselor at LOHS, works with many of the high school's students who are involved with drugs and alcohol. She presented the 2010 survey results to the Charter Township of Orion Board of Trustees during the May 17 meeting, as well as to the teachers and school board.

"It's unfortunate. Far too often parents and the community allow this to happen," commented Novak.

The sophomore, who said her mother is an alcoholic and uses weed as well, says she's not addicted to anything, but uses occasionally. Her parents are aware of her drug usage, however she has never been punished.

The stats say otherwise. According to Novak's presentation, "marijuana usage increases substantially as students get older. The percentage of students who ever tried marijuana in their lifetime goes from 3.2 percent in seventh grade to 15.9 percent in ninth to 38.3 percent in eleventh grade."

"It's so easy to get mixed into [drugs]. People will walk around and say 'Hey, you need this, you need that?' and they don't even know you," the student said. Survey results for LO show that 221 students from the seventh, ninth, and eleventh grade classes were offered, sold, or given an illegal drug on school property within the year.

When asked about her last thoughts, the sophomore said "If I could, I would take it all back. It's not worth it."

She said that weed is the most common drug that she is around, because "it's the easiest thing to get a hold of in high school."

However, the abuse of prescription painkillers and over-the-counter medication is both increasing in frequency among teens and concern among the public. Some LO students are now riding that dangerous wave as well.

According to the MiPHY survey, 9.7 percent of eleventh graders took a prescription drug without a doctor's prescription one or more times within 30 days of the survey.

It takes around 14 Mucinex DM pills to get high, said an anonymous LOHS junior. However, the student was rushed to the emergency room after taking 22 pills and blacking out. "I woke up to IVs; and doctors told me my heart was so fast it had a flutter."

This near-death experience came after a long chain of drug use and rehab programs. She explained that through transitioning into high school, she lost old friends and just tried to make new ones. "I always used to stay away from the 'druggies' and told myself it was trashy to do [drugs]. However I just got mixed up in the wrong friends," she said.

After starting with cigarettes (which she still smokes now), her friends got her to try weed, ecstasy, and acid. Then someone said you can get high off painkillers, and the friends started to try that.

"Just the fact that I knew that I could get nonprescription drugs at any store kept me using them. Whenever I got them I stole them, because I was underage. It's easy to walk into a store and grab them," she said.

"I would get so lazy and just sit there and want more and more pills," she continues, "I was in my own world and didn't do school work. You can barely read straight."

The student says that she most likely was high every single day at school. "When the drugs wore off, I would go to the bathroom and take more," she said.

She came to Novak on her own and said she had a problem, and that's when Novak got her help. She is now enrolled in an out-patient rehab program, and her parents enforce strict punishment (like loss of phone and Internet).

"I knew I had to change my friends to start the process," she says. Both students stated that it's extremely easy to fall into the wrong group of friends and get mixed up into the drug scene.

The junior also agreed that, "It's so not worth it. Those four hours of high is not worth the consequences."

The numbers found from the school's MiPHY survey raises questions about what kids can get into during the school day and who they are befriending. When asked if parents should be worried, Novak replied with a definitive yes. "I am a parent, and I worry," continues Novak. However the students are not at a risk, per say. There are risk behaviors that everyone is exposed to and anyone can make those decisions, said Novak.

On the other hand, Novak implied that kids get into trouble outside of school. Statistics continued to support the idea that schools are the safest environment for children, she said.

"The schools and school district does not have the problem," Novak said, "It's the kids that are coming in."

She, along with teachers, are heading the effort to improve statistics among LO students. "I'm not on a prohibition tirade. I just want to see kids healthy and safe," she says finally. Teachers incorporate drug and alcohol prevention into lessons, said Novak. Other ways to decrease drug use among students: teaching resistance skills, self confidence, and the internal strength 'to just say no.' As well as strong parental bonds, clear boundaries, and prevention that targets younger-aged students.

There is a positive side, however. "The survey is not us," said Novak. "The minority is the group who speaks the loudest. A majority of our kids are doing great things and going wonderful places," she said.

Due to the length of the survey, all results cannot be published. However they are available online at www.northoaklandcoalition.org or at the Lake Orion High School home page, under parent resources, substance abuse.

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