The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health 2018/2019 outlined various drug use in North Carolina. For the age group of 12-17, 65,000 (8.18%) youths had used illicit substances in the past year. Another 101,000 (12.78%) students used marijuana in the past year with 54,000 (6.87%) of those using marijuana in the last month. Around 42,000 (6.14%) students tried marijuana for the first time and 20,000 (2.54%) students used an illicit substance other than marijuana in the past month. 3,000 (0.33) students used cocaine in the past year and 1,000 (0.15%) used methamphetamine. Approximately 21,000 (2.66%) students misused pain reliever in the past year.1
In terms of alcohol use, 73,000 students between the ages of 12-17 used alcohol in the last month, and 42,000 binge drank alcohol in the past month.1 According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, approximately 43% of students used marijuana one or more times which is higher than the national percentage of 40%. Around 11% of students have used an inhalant and 7% have used pain killers for nonmedical reasons.2
Despite the high rates of drug use in North Carolina, only 25,000 students were diagnosed with an illicit drug use disorder and received treatment. An additional 24,000 students did not receive the necessary treatment for substance use disorder.1
Marijuana is the most used illicit substance amongst youth in the United States. When it comes to opioids, OcyContin and Percocet are frequently abused amongst teen populations. Fentanyl and codeine are also frequently abused as are other prescription painkillers that students might find in their parents’ medicine cabinets. While cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamines aren’t used as often in this age group, they can still pose a serious problem amongst youth who use them. Alcohol and tobacco are also substances that are abused by youth in North Carolina at a higher rate than in many other states.
Suicide is one of the leading causes of death amongst American youth between the ages of 15-19. Substance abuse can often be a risk factor for suicide and can increase feelings of anxiety and depression amongst youth. A 1992 study determined that cocaine was more closely associated with reports of attempted suicide than alcohol, marijuana, or drugs used intravenously. Cocaine, alcohol, and marijuana use were all linked to negative thinking and the planning or attempt of suicide amongst youths. While it cannot be determined that substances are a direct cause of suicide, research shows that substance abuse has negative mental health outcomes.3
Wake County has experienced a high number of teenage drug use and death. According to the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, Wake County Public Schools reported nearly 500 cases of possession of a controlled substance during the 2016-2017 school year.4 In 2018, Wake County Public Schools had the highest number of students reported for the possession and use of illicit substances.4
One student who attended Leesville Road High School reported that he and his friends started experimenting with pills around the 9th grade. Throughout this student’s high school career, he lost numerous friends to drug overdoses. The drugs that caused the overdose were a mixture of alcohol, Xanax, and methadone.4
Another woman reported that her daughter, who went to Leesville Road High School, overdosed on Xanax. She has spoken out and said that the county needs to be doing more to protect their children.5
When it comes to illegal and criminal offenses, drug possession is the most widely reported offense at both Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and other schools in North Carolina. The Charlotte Observer reported in 2017 that the number of students caught with drugs and guns at school rose substantially in 2015-2016.5 The number of students at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools found to be in the possession of illegal drugs and the unauthorized possession of prescription drugs increased from 534 one year to 624 the next. However, overall state numbers for students in possession of illegal drugs decreased slightly with Wake district reporting 310 cases and Guilford County reporting 278 cases.5
CMS schools with the highest number of reported drug possessions were Garinger High with 50 cases, West Mecklenburg High with 47 cases, Rocky River High with 41 cases, Independence High with 33 cases, Butler High with 30 cases, Mallard Creek High with 28 cases, and Hopewell and Myers Park High with 26 cases each. One reason behind drug possession is that children are experiencing trauma at younger ages, which can often lead to negative outcomes such as the use of illicit substances.5
The Coastal Coalition for Substance Abuse Prevention (CCSAP) is a coalition comprised of Carteret, Craven, Jones, Onslow, and Pamlico counties. These counties have collaborated with stakeholders to prevent and reduce substance abuse among youth and adults by addressing risk factors and promoting alternatives to substance use. The coalition’s main objectives are to prevent prescription drug abuse and underage binge drinking. This is achieved through a Substance Abuse Prevention Task Force in each county which works within its local communities to prevent youth substance abuse.6
The CCSAP created a 12-month action plan for the 2019-2020 school year with numerous goals and objectives.7 The first goal was to increase community collaboration through the attendance of task force meetings and coalition activities geared towards the prevention of substance abuse. By October 30, 2020, the goal was to increase event attendance by adults and youth by 4%. The CCSAP also aimed to increase awareness of the dangers of substance abuse through campaigns and education.
The second goal of the action plan was to actively reduce youth substance abuse by 3%. This would be measured through surveys in every county, and it would be promoted via presentations at schools and surveys of stores in the country that serve alcohol. The CCSAP also promoted the safe disposal of unused or expired prescription medications so that youth could not easily access their parents’ or caregivers’ prescription drugs.
Due to the increasing issue of youth substance abuse in North Carolina, a local group has started a high school recovery program where all the students at a school are recovering from a substance abuse disorder. The point of a Triangle Recovery High School is that students can continue to receive an education while also receiving substance abuse treatment. Since returning to a public school and a certain friend group can put a student at risk of relapse, attending a school where everyone is recovering from substance abuse disorders helps reduce this risk.8
While traditional treatment facilities are available to students, recovery high schools allow an alternative option where students can stay in school while receiving treatment. If staying in school is not an option, students can seek out rehabilitation facilities where they receive treatment in either inpatient or outpatient settings. This means that a student may stay overnight at a treatment facility for an extended period, or they may visit a facility daily or a couple of times a week to receive treatment.
Treatment options include medication-assisted therapies if needed, individual and group counseling, support groups, and other activities that help students to find alternative ways to combat stress and pass the time. Students can learn coping tools and strategies to maintain sobriety even within a culture where many youths are experimenting with drugs and alcohol.
The Pride Survey is a questionnaire created in 1982 that has been used in thousands of countries across the U.S. to measure substance abuse, bullying, harassment, and other risk factors in schools. The survey was created for grades 6-12 and is the longest-running and most utilized survey to date, with more than 7.7 million students completing the survey since 1982. The survey has allowed researchers to identify trends and patterns and help to combat negative behavior and factors in schools.9