DOBSON — A new task force in Surry County is taking a proactive approach to the problem of prescription drug abuse.
The Surry County Prescription Drug Awareness Task Force includes educators, law enforcement officials and even students with the single goal of helping raise awareness of the dangers of abusing prescription drugs.
To help facilitate that mission, student members of the task force met yesterday at Meadowview Middle School to see what they can do to help get the word out.
Addressing the group of assembled teens, Dr. Ashley Hinson, superintendent for Surry County Schools, told them that he understands how much work goes into public service.
“I really appreciate each of you students who have been selected to serve on this committee,” he said, noting that it is a subject that needs to be addressed. “From what I’m hearing the biggest challenge facing us today as far as drugs are concerned is the abuse of prescription drugs.”
Hinson said he isn’t sure what is more widespread, prescription drug abuse or the use of illicit drugs like marijuana.
“But I do know that (prescription drug abuse) is a huge problem for young people across the country,” he said. “The fact that you’re sitting here today serving on this committee says a lot about you. This isn’t easy. To be a part of something like this is sometimes putting you in a difficult position where you have to be a leader, and sometimes leaders aren’t quite so well-received by their peers.”
But School Board member Clark Goings said the risk of alienation is worth it.
“If we can save one person’s life by making them aware of the dangers of prescription drug abuse, it’s worth it,” he said.
The students, ranging from middle school to high school students, said they joined the task force to help their community. They told stories that many parents would believe came from an episode of Law & Order.
“(Prescription drug abuse) isn’t that widespread, but there are small groups of students that are involved in it,” said Pilot Mountain Middle School student Michela Coppola. “One of my friends had to go to the hospital after taking prescription drugs and she tried to commit suicide.”
Meagan Hutson, a student at Surry Central High School, said students aren’t as aware of the dangers of abusing prescription drugs as they are about illicit narcotics, a sentiment echoed by Taylor Joyce of East Surry High School.
“Kids our age think prescription drugs are different and easier to get to, and since they’re prescribed by a doctor they think they are safe,” Joyce said. “They can just go to the medicine cabinet and there it is. It’s easier to get.”
Asked how many of them know people who abuse prescription drugs, hands went up around the table.
“I don’t really hear about it every day, but there are people who do it in my school,” Central Middle School student Salem Poindexter said. “I’m here because I want to get the word out to people who may not think about it or don’t believe its happening.”
Madison Fields, a student at North Surry High School, said she’s seen first-hand the dangers of abusing pills.
“A lot of kids our age are getting their wisdom teeth taken out and then getting addicted to the pain pills,” she said. “I had a friend who got addicted and now she doesn’t really talk to people like she used to.”
Suddenly the smile went out of her eyes and she seemed somehow older.
“We lost a friend because of this,” she said quietly.
Getting the Word Out
Surry County school students and their parents will be hearing more about the dangers of prescription drug abuse in the weeks to come.
The students selected to serve on the task force met in December to come up with a plan for a campaign to raise awareness of the problem.
At that meeting they crafted social media messages that will be sent to students and parents over their computers and cell phones throughout the month of March. These messages warn of the dangers of prescription drug abuse and note that using pills not prescribed for you can make you “become another statistic.”
The messages will also offer tips for parents to help make them aware that children can overdose from just one pill taken from a medicine cabinet.
Diane Beane, principal at East Surry High School, told the group that the few incidents she’s seen in the school often originate from the family medicine cabinet.
“The family members don’t know that this is going on,” she said. “The key is to have the adults become aware of the dangers.”
Throughout March, flyers, posters and other handouts will be posted prominently throughout the county’s schools in an effort to make every student aware of the dangers of abusing prescription drugs. As part of their effort to get parents and students to pay attention, all handouts, flyers and posters were designed by students on the task force.
Parents may receive the flyers when picking up or dropping off their children, or they may be distributed with report cards.
In addition, videos addressing the dangers of prescription drug abuse will also be shown throughout the schools next month.
“The important thing to remember is that this program isn’t a one-time thing,” said Assistant Superintendent Dr. Terri Mosley. “This is a problem that needs to be addressed year-round.”
Wanda Roberston, who attended the event as a representative of the Partnership for a Drug Free North Carolina, said she is pleasantly surprised at the efforts of the local group.
“From the perspective of a preventative agency, I’d like to thank you so much for the hard work you’re doing,” she told the students gathered for the meeting. “Other localities are being blown away by what’s happening in Surry County.”
Any businesses or organizations who would like to become involved in prescription drug abuse awareness in the county’s schools can call Moseley at 386-8211. Any help, she said, would be greatly appreciated.
Reach Keith Strange at firstname.lastname@example.org or 719-1929.