Sewickley-area schools, agencies provide resources to prevent drug abuse

Bobby Cherry
| Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

With at least 22 drug overdose deaths reported across a six-county region within the past few weeks, Sewickley-area leaders say they're focused on prevention resources to help young people faced with substance abuse issues.

“There is a lot of naivete of what's going on out there,” said Susan Kaminski, chairperson of the Sewickley-based Youth Connect program that focuses on providing information and resources to youth in an effort to avoid risky behaviors.

“Parents don't necessarily intentionally let it happen, but there's a lack of awareness.”

Allegheny County Medical Examiners officials identified at least 13 people ranging in age from 25 to 51 whose deaths were suspected to be part of a specific batch of heroin.

Kaminski said the group she helped organize about a decade ago works to inform parents and youths of the dangers of using alcohol and drugs. She said use in the teen years of alcohol or marijuana can be more problematic during developing years.

“People are unaware of how significant the brain effects are,” she said, adding that cigarettes or alcohol could have a greater adverse affect on a 14-year-old because his or her body is still growing.

“To a developing brain, it doesn't matter,” Kaminski said. “Even if you think it's an OK thing, you still shouldn't be letting your kids do it.”

A 2008 Youth Connect survey showed 36 percent of local high school seniors used marijuana, she said.

Kaminski said that number “seems pretty high,” but she guessed if a survey was conducted now that the number might be higher.

There have been 16 reported instances of students possessing or using illegal substances in the Quaker Valley School District since 2008, according to state Department of Education records. Two of those instances were at the middle school during the 2010-11 school year, records show.

As a guidance counselor and sponsor of a high school organization geared toward teens helping teens, Amy Keller said she knows the struggles children can face in high school.

Peer advocacy group QV Voice “helps make students aware of the struggles that come from drug addiction and what drugs can do to you,” Keller said.

The group offers programming throughout the year, including regular monthly lunch groups where students are welcome to discuss a variety of topics, ranging from decision making to safety. Keller said groups offer scenarios, prompting students to talk about how they'd react in different situations.

The group has partnered with Youth Connect at programming, and talks with parents about issues teens face.

“We've tried to have some education for parents for things they can do to help make the right choice,” Keller said.

Keller said prevention and resource programming is important for children and teens.

“With addiction or with youth, there's a number of students who are in denial of how much they need help,” she said.

“My hope with the group was that because we try to be inclusive and cover a variety of issues so that if someone is struggling but doesn't want to put it out there, they can still be welcome.”

Bobby Cherry is an associate editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-324-1408 or rcherry@tribweb.com.

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