Teens speak out about substance abuse problems in Beaufort County

sbowman@beaufortgazette.comMay 19, 2014 

There is a substance abuse problem among youth in Beaufort County, say law enforcement, educators and teens themselves.

But before it can be fixed, it must be acknowledged and understood.

That's the biggest part of the problem, teens say. It isn't seen as a problem -- instead, using and abusing drugs and alcohol is seen more as the norm.

"It's become such a normal thing in our community, and it's a normal thing to come up in conversation," said Lindsey Neville, a student at Hilton Head Island High School. "That's one of the reasons why people find it so easy to begin doing these things, because everyone talks about it, so it just seems so normal now."

But Neville -- along with 13 of her peers and many parents, business people and community members in Hilton Head and Bluffton -- are trying to raise awareness about the problem and address it.

On Monday night, the LowCountry Alliance for Healthy Youth hosted a town hall meeting, sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, to educate the community and hear directly from students.

A panel of experts, including a pediatrician, attorney and a drug enforcement agent with the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office, also spoke about the health and legal consequences of substance abuse.

Teen alcohol and drug abuse is the No. 1 health risk facing the country's youth today, according to the substance abuse administration.

Hilton Head High had a drug problem earlier this year involving Xanax, a prescription narcotic used to manage anxiety, and Coricidin, an over-the-counter cold-and-cough medicine.

Principal Amanda O'Nan said paramedics had to be called to the campus several times to help students who mixed the drugs. However, since taking a head-on approach, the school has not experienced any recent cases, O'Nan said.

No other incidents involving those drugs were found at the other schools, Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner has said.

Many students at Monday's meeting said making sure adults are aware of the situation and are setting good examples is key. The easy access to drugs and alcohol by young people also needs to be addressed, the teens said.

"Our culture is so accepting of this, and it's easily accessible," said Christian Hamby, a senior at Hilton Head Christian Academy. "It is definitely a big, growing issue and I myself have faced it, but if we really address this as a community, we can do it."

At the meeting, the town of Bluffton and the Town of Hilton Head presented proclamations recognizing May 19 as "Underage Drinking Prevention Day" in the area.

Phyllis Neville, board chair for the alliance, said the group also is working to create a youth branch of the coalition. Students talking to their peers is what ultimately will make a difference, she said.

"It takes someone to step up and be a leader, not a follower," Hilton Head High student Clyde Blake said.

Follow reporter Sarah Bowman at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.

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