Summit educates parents on youth drug trends

By BRIANA HARRIS / Staff Writer

PELHAM – Parents learned about current drug trends, the dangers of underage drinking, prescription drug abuse, social media trends and the dangers of e-cigarettes at the Parent Summit held at Pelham High School Tuesday, Oct. 4.

From 5:30-6 p.m. parents asked questions while browsing informational booths set up in the hallway, and at 6 p.m. keynote speaker Clay Hammac, the commander of the Shelby County Drug Enforcement Task Force, educated parents about drug trends specific to Shelby County.

“These aren’t state or national trends,” Hammac said. “These are the trends that we are seeing here in Shelby County among teenagers and young adults.”

Hammac said a long-lasting challenge for the county has been getting rid of the relaxed perception of recreational marijuana use. The common misconception is that it’s harmless, but Hammac said smoking marijuana can lead to more hazardous behavior down the road.

Jan Corbett, coordinator of the Shelby County Drug Free Coalition, said marijuana and even the nicotine in cigarettes changes the brain of teens and young adults 15-25 years old, making them more susceptible to addiction later in life.

She said marijuana also worsens existing mental health issues like depression, anxiety and schizophrenia. People with mental illness are more likely to experience negative emotions when smoking marijuana, such as a depressed mood, anxiety—including physical symptoms like shortness of breath and heart palpitations—and even paranoia.

Hammac said students are finding more ways to get high without their parents knowing. Hammac said students have begun putting THC-based liquids into e-cigarettes and vapes. THC is the main mind-altering ingredient found in the Cannabis plant.

This method is popular because it doesn’t normally give off a smell like traditional marijuana cigarettes.

Hammac said prescription drugs abuse is also on the rise.

“We’ve seen prescription drug addiction start as early as freshman year in high school,” he said. “A lot of the time students start taking prescription drugs for a legitimate reason – because of an injury or after surgery – if they’re not supervised properly it can grow into an addiction. It’s an honest chemical addiction.”

Hammac said parents should always supervise their children to ensure they are taking prescription medications properly. Hammac said sometimes an addiction to prescription drugs can grow into a heroin addiction because they both contain opioids, which comes from the poppy plant.

Parents also received information about the dangers of binge drinking, cyberbullying, sexting and how to administer at-home drug tests that can be purchased over the counter.

“We share this information with parents so they can be aware and know the proper way to respond if they should find themselves faced with any of these issues,” Hammac said.