March 12, 2001
Drug and alcohol problems are alive and growing in Woodinville
by Deborah Stone
When Jerry Blackburn was 27 years old, he found himself in detox in a hospital back east. He had sunk to the lowest depths of alcohol addiction.
After spending five days in detox, he was transferred to a rehab facility to try to undo the damage he had inflicted on his body for many years. The will to change his lifestyle and be free of drugs and alcohol began to assert itself and with education and support, he was able to pull himself out of the cycle of addiction that had threatened to destroy him.
Today Blackburn is a chemical dependency counselor with Lakeside-Milam Recovery Centers and an Intervention/Prevention Specialist in the Northshore School District.
"I have been clean for seven years and have been using my experiences and training to help others," says Blackburn. "I am committed to helping communities become aware of the magnitude of the chemical dependency problem in adolescents and teens."
In his second year with Northshore, Blackburn works as a counselor on site at Woodinville and Inglemoor high schools and Northshore and Leota junior high schools. He is a resource for the schools, orchestrates preventative strategies, intervenes when kids are actively using drugs and alcohol and runs support, life skill and education groups on campus.
"Schools are aware of the facts and the problems and know that usage interferes with education," comments Blackburn. "The problem in Washington state echoes problems across the nation, but what is surprising for many people is that the statistics for usage among teens are higher than the national numbers.
"Thirty-one percent of eighth graders in Washington drink on a consistent basis, 16.5 percent use marijuana, 15.2 percent use tobacco and 3.8 percent take hallucinogens. Fifty-two percent of high school seniors drink on a consistent basis, 28 percent use marijuana, 28 percent use tobacco and 6 percent take hallucinogens
"These are 1998 stats and for alcohol and marijuana, the numbers are higher than the national stats. People wonder why this is and I think the perception on the West Coast is that drug and alcohol use is less of a threat. They don't think about the amount of drugs that come from Canada and Mexico and go up and down the Coast. They are very accessible to our communities."
In Northshore, as in other districts, especially on the eastside of Seattle, there is a lot of disposable income, the growth rate is fast and furious and people, especially parents, are busy which, according to Blackburn, all factor into Washington state's high statistics. When parents are busy, often awareness and intervention decrease.
He says, "What people need to understand is that drug and alcohol use among adolescents is consistent; our perceptions aren't. By normalizing our perceptions, we can do something to help the situation change. Drug and alcohol use is an equal opportunity disorder and it affects all socioeconomic levels and racial backgrounds.
"People are in denial when they think it isn't happening in their communities. This response is very common because denial keeps people safe. It makes it easy for them because then they don't have to deal with the problem."
Blackburn urges parents to be familiar with the signs of possible drug and alcohol use in their children and to pay attention to the behavior of their kids.
Changes in what is normal behavior for one's child should be examined and parents should look into the reasons for this change. Some of the signs that could indicate possible chemical use include dramatic personality changes, lack of ambition, struggles with relationships, change in educational pursuits, inappropriate or exaggerated emotional responses and secretive behavior. He emphasizes that parents should trust their instincts and follow through if they note any of these signs.
Sue White, Woodinville High School nurse, concurs with Blackburn and hopes that by educating parents about the problems that exist in the community, eyes will be open and action will be taken in the preventative mode.
She says, "This is a community problem and how the community deals with it directly affects its scope and size. We have the same issues and problems that schools in Seattle have. It doesn't matter about demographics. Adolescence is a tough time because kids in this age range are very 'me' centered. They don't think far ahead and they are immature in their reasoning skills. Add peer pressure and the party scene in a community where there is a lot of free time, freedom and disposable income and the problem is magnified. There's not a lot to do around here for kids and parties become the weekend activities and most of the time, parties mean a lot of alcohol and drugs."
In addition to drugs and alcohol, White has recently seen an increase in problems with abuse of over the counter medications among teens at the high school.
She comments, "This problem, from what I've heard, is now pretty prevalent across the nation. Kids are telling me about taking cough medicine in near fatal doses, about four bottles at a time, and the high that results from the ingredient DXM (readily found in cough medicines such as Robitussin, Vicks, St. Joseph's). The feeling becomes addictive and the rush becomes important to them. The fact that these medicines are so accessible is scary. Then if you drink on top of that, you vomit violently. I've had kids come and ask me if you can vomit to death!"
White and Blackburn often work together, providing referrals to one another and working towards the goal of awareness and prevention. When intervention is necessary, the goal is to get the student into treatment and then facilitate his/her return and subsequent adjustment to school. Both White and Blackburn will continue their advocacy of community awareness and support for continued education programs for parents and students.
"We need parent support," states Blackburn. "This problem won't go away without acknowledgment and realization of the facts. That's the first and most important step." White says, "I want follow-up to occur. I want to get community activism going. I want people talking about it, telling others about it, going to talk to pharmacies about over the counter medications, taking actions to change the statistics. It's everyone's problem and we all need to care about it."