Drugs and alcohol are detrimental to a community of learners.  

Trumbull students have taken an understanding to that lesson, according to a recent Trumbull Partnership Against Underage Drinking and Drugs (TPAUD) survey that polled more than 2,800 students at the high school and both middle schools and revealed a decrease in both alcohol and marijuana use by the town’s youth over the last two years.

“Addiction is a brain disease, not a character flaw,” TPAUD Project Director Melissa McGarry told the Board of Education during a review of the survey results at its March 15 meeting.

TPAUD, which was established 10 years ago by Chairwoman Vicki Tesoro, has surveyed students three times — 2007, 2010, and 2013 — before this past fall’s study.

According to the four groups of data, alcohol use has declined from more than 65% of Trumbull High School students in 2007 to 45% in 2015.

The latter figure indicates there is still work to be done, McGarry admitted to the board.

The 2013 survey was the first to measure drug use, and reported that 19% of THS students had tried marijuana. This year’s survey showed a decrease to 13%.

Perhaps the most important battlefront for TPAUD leaders, like McGarry and Tesoro, is prescription drug abuse amongst teenagers.

This year’s survey indicated that abuse of prescription drugs, such as Ritalin and Percocet — declined from 11% at THS in 2013 to 7% in 2015.

McGarry said that misuse is taking someone else’s prescription pharmaceutical.

Ritalin, for example, has become a part of some students’ SAT prep because it helps them stay alert.

However, painkillers have become the bigger problem with heroin and prescription opioid abuse becoming a national crisis since the last survey results were tallied.

Over that two-year span, Trumbull has suffered numerous overdose deaths.

Unfortunately, those incidents have not scared away the teenage community. According to the survey, 3% of THS students — 58 students — admitted to having tried either heroin or prescription opioids.

The good  

A year and a half ago, TPAUD was able to expand to include drug use prevention thanks to a . five-year $625,000 grant that was awarded to McGarry by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

She told the board on March 15 that TPAUD engages “youth, parents and community partners to reduce youth alcohol and drug use and create a safe and healthy community.”

The group is “data driven,” and measures its success through surveys of student behavior and attitudes.

TPAUD has not only succeeded in keeping large numbers of teens from experimenting with alcohol and drugs, but also may have made Trumbull a model community in the prevention of teen drug and alcohol use.

The bad and the ugly

E-cigarettes, now an “enormous problem,” were first surveyed this year.

The results revealed that 6% of seventh and eighth graders have experimented with vaping, while an alarmingly high number — 47% — admitted to using electronic cigarette devices.

Predictably, “risky behavior” increases with age — 14% of seventh and eighth graders reported having consumed alcohol.

That number only increase as students get older, a pattern that Tesoro referred to as “stair stepping.”

According to the data, 62% of THS seniors have consumed alcohol.

Tesoro noted that this “points to a need for more intervention and education.”

Education and prevention

Both Tesoro and McGarry said “targeting parents has been effective in the younger grades,” and, importantly, parents are role models who “make a difference in whether their kids drink or do drugs.”

Trumbull’s schools are responding.

More programs are being planned in middle schools; THS’s part-time health teacher position will become full time next year; and, most importantly, health will become a part of the curriculum for juniors at the high school.

Additionally, Trumbull High has a dean with a social work background.

One of the most successful programs TPAUD runs is an annual forum for ninth graders and their parents that attracted 1,200 people last fall.

During her presentation to the board on March 15, McGarry said she will continue to work with high school administrators to develop programs that will help identify students who are potentially susceptible to the brain disease that leads to addiction, and to treat its symptoms before they become life challenging.