Stoughton Public Schools Parent Engagement Coordinators, Maryann Dawson and Shaunte Thomas, partnered with Stoughton’s Police Department and the OASIS Coalition (Organizing Against Substances in Stoughton) to present a Family Drug Awareness Night on Jan. 10.
A crowd gathered in the O’Donnell Middle School Media Center eager to learn about today’s drug and alcohol trends and more importantly, how to talk to children about substance abuse.
“Talk Early, Talk Often” was the common theme stressed by all of the evening’s presenters.
OASIS’ Substance Abuse Coordinator, Stephanie Patton shared statistical data that showed while Stoughton teenage alcohol use has gone down by approximately five percent, its marijuana use has risen almost 10 percent.
More Stoughton teens still admit to consuming alcohol regularly than using marijuana, but the gap is closing, according to the most recent survey of Stoughton youth (data available in a PowerPoint presentation posted in the media gallery of this article).
Patton also noted the discrepancy between what teenagers perceive to be the usage rate of their peers and the actual numbers. Kids believe that most other students are drinking and using drugs, while in reality they are not, Patton said, citing the stats of the most recent survey of Stoughton middle and high students.
Eighth grade students believed that 83% of students were using alcohol and 71% using marijuana, when in actuality the rates were 20% for alcohol and 10% marijuana.
In the high school the perception was a 97% alcohol usage rate versus the actual rate of 41% and a 96% perceived marijuana usage rate vs. the actual rate of 24%.
Stoughton Police Executive Officer Robert Devine and Stoughton Police Juvenile Detective Roger Hardy’s presentation focused on specific drug use and what signs for parents to look out for.
While the presentation reiterated that "the vast majority of students aren’t using," Devine went on to discuss the challenges that the newly voted medicinal marijuana regulations will present.
“Two-thirds of Stoughton voted for medical marijuana...even with the passage of these regulations, marijuana is still illegal,” he said.
However, while most people may envision an elderly cancer patient as the only user of medicinal marijuana, the average cardholder is a 25-year old white male, and that is the challenge for police in dealing with this law, Devine explained.
“I have watched marijuana destroy lives and destroy families”, he said passionately.
While heroin use became prevalent in Stoughton back in 2004, (sparking the creation of the OASIS coalition), Devine said that it has been pretty much contained to that original population of users and hasn’t really expanded much beyond that, somberly adding that there were three overdose deaths last year and “that was three too many.”
The biggest problem in Stoughton is prescription drug use and “Where are they getting them from? Your medicine cabinet!”, Devine said.
Gone are the days of saving extra medicine, it must be disposed of and the SPD has provided a drop box in its lobby for proper disposal. And citizens have begun using it, evidenced by the approximately 100 pounds of pills that were recently taken to be incinerated.
But, Devine and Hardy reminded the group, “We [the SPD] cannot be everywhere, we need help from parents like you...Parents who choose the 'they are only being kids' or 'it's only weed' mentalities are not helping anyone...Remember parents are parents, not friends.”
The training ended with role plays starring Karen Hall, the Director of the Stoughton Youth Commission, aided by Corie Brookshire of the OMS Guidance Department.
While previously recorded role plays illustrated the ways not to speak to your children about alcohol use, Hall and Brookshire simulated a mother/daughter car ride to the mall which demonstrated more positive techniques, such as the car conversation. “The best place to have a conversation is in the car. It takes the pressure off [because you are not facing one another],” they said.
Quantifying that “This [should be] one of many conversations," Hall encouraged parents to “start young by talking about making good decisions and make the rules clear, [such as] consequences for lying...Kids need to know you are in control, when they are six and 16. The greatest influence on your kids is you, even though they don’t want you to know it.”
When your kids fight you on it, “Talk to them about how much you care about them. It’s key. The reason you don’t want them to do drugs and alcohol is because you care and you want to keep them safe," Hall concluded.
Many other tips were shared about broaching the subject of drug and alcohol use with children. To learn more about them go to www.stoughtonoasis.org or contact Stephanie Patton directly at 781-341-2252, ext. 9456 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.