Schools, parents team up to fight pill abuse

Expanded Clark County program aims to educate, drug test students.

Nearly one in every five high school students in Clark County has taken medications not prescribed to them, a local health district survey found.

As the mother of a teenager who died from taking just one pill, that’s a statistic Danielle Smoot wants to change.

“They don’t know it’s dangerous,” Smoot said.

That’s why she’s worked with the Clark County Prosecutor’s Office to expand recently a drug education and testing program named for her 16-year-old son — Cole’s Warriors — to five schools now.

The Clark County Combined Health District’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that while only 5 percent of Clark County high school students surveyed in 2011 admitted trying drugs such as crack or cocaine, that figure jumped to 19 percent when it came to prescription drugs and 11 percent for over-the-counter drugs for the purpose of getting high.

Smoot founded Cole’s Warriors after her son died by taking one prescription pill that wasn’t his.

With help from the Clark County Prosecutor’s Office, the group started two years ago at Tecumseh High School, where Cole was a student, and then at Springfield-Clark Career Technology Center. It aims to educate students about drug use and arm them with tools to eliminate problems with peer pressure.

A part of that program, voluntary drug pledges and testing, is now being launched at three more schools — Kenton Ridge, Northeastern and Clark-Shawnee high schools.

Pledge forms were mailed to students’ homes asking parents to allow their children to sign-up for random drug screening through Cole’s Warriors. A letter would be sent to parents indicating if their child tested positive, negative or refused to take a test.

But schools, sports teams and law enforcement aren’t notified of the results.

The goal is to provide parents with information without the government inflicting punishments that could hurt a student’s ability to go to college or get scholarships, Clark County Prosecutor Andy Wilson said.

“We want to arm parents with tools that they can use to address the issue of drugs with their kids,” he said.

To sweeten the deal, students who sign up at one of the newly enlisted schools will be entered into a drawing for a new 32-inch TV and PlayStation 3 at Kenton Ride, or a 52-inch TV at Northeastern. The drawing will take place at the end of February.

The items are confiscated from Clark County drug dealers.

“This TV used to hang on a drug dealer’s wall,” Wilson said of the set he carried into Kenton Ridge on Friday.

There’s no cost to schools or to the public. The testing is fully funded by money and merchandise confiscated by drug dealers. The prosecutor’s office receives a portion of the funds. Last year, confiscations brought in $250,000 to Wilson’s office.

The prizes are one reason Kenton Ridge senior Sam Hudson took the pledge.

“I want to win the PlayStation,” he said.

Smoot gave a presentation at each school during the sign-up period, making students aware of Cole’s death.

It made Hudson more aware of the danger, and took away the “thrill” of thinking about getting high. Knowing his parents will get a letter if he’s tested is an extra incentive not to use drugs, Hudson said.

“I don’t want to get caught doing drugs,” he said.

Many students who use drugs are just teens who made a bad decision, Wilson said. With the possibility of a drug test looming, he hopes more students will refuse drugs.

“We analyzed Cole’s situation and looked at it point by point and said maybe if there had been an intervention point here, it would have been different,” he said. “This is that point.”

Dozens have already turned in pledges at Kenton Ridge and Northeastern. At Tecumseh, 270 of the school’s 1,100 students have signed up. CTC has enrolled 70 of its 620 students. The hope is to reach every Clark County high school student.

After all, Smoot said, she knows how much stopping one kid from taking one pill can make a difference.

“It gives me hope. It gives me peace to be able to work with these teens,” she said.

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