Tonight, parents and caregivers will learn ways in which they can make a difference in their teens’ life — especially when it comes to drugs and alcohol.
The topic is one that impacts local youth, according to counselors and professionals in the area who work with teens.
“Drugs and alcohol has always been an ongoing issue with teens,” said Cassey Chang, who is a counselor for St. Lucie Public Schools mental health services in the Title I department.
To make the event possible, St. Lucie Public Schools joined forces with the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Department, DATA (Drug Abuse Treatment Association) and New Horizons, a provider of behavioral and primary health care services for children, adults and families.
Each organization will be be part of the panel making the presentation to parents.
Having a program to address the issue of alcohol and drugs is important when one considers the statistics. According to the Department of Children and Families 2014 Florida Youth Substance Abuse Survey, nearly 30 percent of middle-schoolers and 62 percent of high-schoolers in St. Lucie County reported using alcohol in their lifetime. That number is larger than the state percentages of 25 percent for middle-schoolers and 56 percent for high-schoolers.
When it comes to using any type of illicit drug, the county’s percentage is nearly 21 percent for middle-schoolers and 44 percent for high-schoolers; compared to the statewide numbers of 18 percent for middle-schoolers and nearly 40 percent for high-schoolers.
Many times this drug or alcohol use may be related to some type of mental illness, and statistics show that one out of five people have some sort of mental issue whether it’s anxiety, panic attacks, depression or schizophrenia, said Rossana Gonzalez, who is director of fund development and community relations for New Horizons of the Treasure Coast.
New Horizons serves 11,000 people a year on the Treasure Coast, and manages the Langford Center for Children, a mental health and substance abuse crisis receiving unit for children ages 6 to 17. Issues, Gonzalez said, usually appear around puberty if not before, and early treatment can make a difference.
“You can’t have health without mental health, and we can prevent so much now,” she said. “Teens are really dying to tell people what’s going on, you just need to listen.”
During the event, which is for moms, dads, grandparents, aunts, uncles, older siblings, close family friends, mentors or other caregivers, families can talk to a variety of vendors. Those vendors include the Roundtable of St. Lucie County, New Horizons, 211 of the Treasure Coast, Girl Scouts, and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Connecting families with resources and helping them learn the signs is helpful, Gonzalez said.
“We need to remind parents that it’s OK,” she said. “It’s not a fun subject, but if we start talking about it, then we have a chance. People won’t feel they are alone.”
The presentation’s goal is to show parents how they can be an influence on their children. Presenters will point out how to monitor for and spot drug or alcohol use and what you adults do if they do spot usage.
Chang believes the event can be powerful for families.
“When you are educated on something, you’re empowered,” she said. “The goal is to give them resources, and for them to know, they are not alone. There are people and resources out in the community to help.”