Law Day 2019: Keeping Our Kids Safe from Drugs

Law Day 2019: Keeping Our Kids Safe from Drugs

I was honored to be a part of organizing the Law Day 2019 luncheon in St. Clairsville, Ohio.  Juvenile Court Judge Al Davies was this year’s guest speaker.

Like West Virginia, Ohio has been rocked by the opioid crisis.  Not surprisingly, this means  drug use among children has been on the rise.  But Judge Davies shed a ray of light on this otherwise dark picture.

Most juvenile courts have a series of drug and alcohol programs as well as sentencing options that incorporate treatment and counseling. The drawback to these programs is that they deal with the issue of addiction after the fact.  But what about before the onset of addiction?  Is there any way to reach youngsters before they’ve been pulled into a culture of drug and alcohol abuse and end up in juvenile court?

In 2016, the juvenile court in Belmont County, Ohio, partnered with schools, law enforcement, and volunteers throughout the county to establish the “Belmont County Schools Staying Clean” program.  Students can sign up at the beginning of each school year.  Being a part of this volunteer program provides students and their families with education, resources and mutual support.  It also gives students a way to confront peer pressure—citing their membership in the program gives them a real and meaningful way to say “no” to those who would invite them to experiment with illegal drugs.

There’s plenty of fun for the kids.  Throughout the year, students are invited to a variety of sponsored activities and events.  But there’s a serious side too.  Random drug tests are performed throughout the school year.  The results are kept confidential and are not released to juvenile court officials or to the schools.  However, any positive test results are released directly to the student’s parents.  The idea is to promote family involvement as a way of dealing with drug issues as early and effectively as possible.

The statistics Judge Davies shared are very encouraging.  At this point the “Belmont County Schools Staying Clean” program is up and running in eight middle schools and high schools throughout Belmont County.  Membership in the first year reached 700.  By the next year, the number of students participating in the program had nearly doubled—i.e., 1,313.  And membership continues to climb.  This year’s membership topped 1,500.  There’s also an educational program for fourth graders called “Too Cool For Drugs” that tries to reach students before they enter middle school. 

And the results?  As membership in these programs has increased, there has been a corresponding decrease in drug court numbers.   Reaching kids where they are, and engaging their schools, families, and communities in the effort, is working.  And that’s good news for our kids.

The success of this program should be an encouragement to other communities.  Yes, the standard drug and alcohol programs used by juvenile courts are a help in combatting drug use among our children.  But what’s even more effective is when the court system joins hands with other interested organizations and volunteers to proactively reach into the schools.  I hope other communities will see what the juvenile court has done in Belmont County and follow its example.  Our kids deserve it!

For more information, go to www.belmontcountyjuvenilecourt.com/programs.