Teen drug, alcohol use topic of forum

About 40 parents, children and professionals that work with youth gathered Tuesday night at Mount Nittany Middle School for a discussion on drug and alcohol use in young people.

The event was the second in this year’s Straight Talk parenting series, a monthly discussion presented by the State College Area School District, Centre County Youth Service Bureau, Jana Marie Foundation and Communities That Care on various issues middle and high school students face.

“The Straight Talk series presents educational programs that help parents and caregivers to recognize, understand, and deal with potential problems that can surface during a child's developmental years,” said Marisa Vicere Brown, president of the Jana Marie Foundation.

Ali Turley, who works with the Youth Service Bureau, and Officer Kelly Aston of the State College Police Department, presented information at the event. Turley spoke on trends locally regarding gateway drug use, risk factors, protective factors and reasons given for trying controlled substances. A perceived low risk of use, boredom and coping with problems were among the reasons listed, she said.

Aston presented on types of provided examples of drug paraphernalia and slang and pointed out signs of drug use in teens. Social and behavioral changes as well as physical signs, like bloodshot eyes, sudden fluctuations in weight and exhaustion, are all things to watch for, she said.

Both said engaged parenting is important in keeping young people from forming drug and alcohol problems. Children that come from homes where parents frown on drug and alcohol use are less likely to habitually use the substances, Turley said.

Surveys have found that teens that are made aware of the risks associated with drug and alcohol use generally won’t use them, Aston said. Aston, who has been on the force for 15 years and on the Centre County Drug Task Force since 2004, said that most teens arrested for drugs and alcohol involvement are less concerned with legal consequences than what their family will think or do.

“That’s just telling us that we need to be having these conversations with our young people,” Aston said.

This year marks the third year the Straight Talk series has been held. Another six events are planned for the remainder of the school year and different speakers are featured at each. All are free and run from 7-8:30 p.m. at Mount Nittany Middle School. Events are recorded and are available to watch on the State College Area School District website.