SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Substance abuse — two words parents hope that their children never have to deal with firsthand.
However, with many students heading back to classes in the coming weeks, there’s an increased likelihood that kids will be exposed at some point to drugs or alcohol.
In November 2018, the Chatham County Counter Narcotics Team (CNT) ended up seizing nearly three pounds of marijuana from a middle school student’s home after the child was found to have brought the drug on campus.
The agency regularly works with local law enforcement, and in cases where students are involved, they collaborate with the Savannah-Chatham Board of Education Police Department.
The CNT also helps ensure that law enforcement officers know what to look for and how to identify the substances that could harm children.
“There have been several times throughout the past couple of years where they’ve called us in after they’ve located a substance on campus,” CNT Lt. Gene Harley told News 3. “Through that joint investigation, we were able to seize the person or persons involved with it, in some cases even working the investigation back to where it originated, either at the student’s house or someone who’s connected to the student where the substance was originally obtained from.”
There are some drugs where the agency has seen increased use in recent years among middle and high schoolers, like liquid THC.
In some cases, Harley says, students are bringing edibles to school to sell them.
The Savannah-Chatham County Public School System’s code of conduct says it has zero tolerance for drugs on campus, and that students could be expelled for bringing drugs, alcohol or other banned substances to local schools.
However, if students do bring illegal items to school, or come across something they want to turn in, local schools each have Amnesty Boxes, which are locked metal containers where students can dispose of banned items anonymously, without the fear of being disciplined.
The types of drugs kids may have access to today, according to Harley, are “leaps and bounds” more dangerous and more addictive than in years past.
“Especially when talking clandestine drugs, one dose of it can be deadly to the child,” Harley said. “It’s important to hammer these statistics into these kids so they really know that trying these drugs could potentially cause them to lose their life.”
While agencies like the CNT deal with the problem after drugs have been found, there are other local groups, like Beyond the Bell, that take a more proactive rather than a reactive approach, in an effort to tackle the potential problem before it starts.
Beyond the Bell Project Coordinator Lindsey Grovenstein says the key to helping prevent kids from getting involved with illegal substances begins with a conversation. Talking to kids about it on a car ride or over dinner is a great place to start, she advised, because not having these crucial conversations allows issues like substance use to drive in silence.
“We tell kids what the risks are, we lay it out to them because there are a lot of misconceptions,” Grovenstein said. “For instance, kids don’t know how long marijuana stays in their system.”
Grovenstein says the organization also aims to teach kids positive coping skills and introduce them to pro-social activities as an alternative and healthier way to cope with anxiety and anger, rather than turning to substances.
Beyond the Bell’s goal is to reduce the use of alcohol and marijuana in youth between the ages of 9 to 20.
According to the Georgia Student Health Survey, 8% of kids said that they’ve tried alcohol or marijuana within a 30-day period. Grovenstein says this is a good thing because it’s a smaller number than many might have thought.
Local experts agree that while schools, local organizations and law enforcement can do all they can to keep illegal substances out of the hands of kids — it starts at home.
“We can’t do it alone, we need the parents’ involvement. They know their child better than anyone else,” Harley said. “If all of a sudden their child is displaying behavior that’s not normal, they need to look into that. They need to maybe check their rooms periodically to see if there’s any type of drug paraphernalia, and then contact your local law enforcement agency for assistance or the CNT.”