Parents, educators learn about signs of teen drug use at OSU College of Social Work conference

COLUMBUS (WCMH) – Parents play a big role in keeping their children off drugs, but it can be hard to keep up with the latest drug trends and warning signs.

“We’re facing an epidemic in our community as far as opioids are concerned, and we feel like it’s our responsibility to help share all the information we can,” said Sara Friedman, director of continuing education at Ohio State’s College of Social Work.

The College of Social Work teamed up with the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office Wednesday for Operation Street Smart, a conference at the Ohio Union. Educators, school counselors, social workers and the public were able to attend.

“It’s sharing information with people that they might come in contact with things that maybe they didn’t recognize or understand what they were looking at, to be able to identify whether their kids, whether in school or their own families, are using,” Friedman said.

Alexandria Nicoley attended Wednesday’s conference and said she learned a lot about how students might hide drugs or alcohol. On one table, participants viewed a book with a cutout inside, where a plastic container of alcohol was hidden.

Nicoley, a high school counselor for 2 years, said sometimes educating kids about the dangers of addiction isn’t enough.

“Some of the kids that do get in trouble for bringing them to school, they can go through this program as kind of like a remediation type thing,” Nicoley said. “And some of them will continue to come back to school with the drugs and alcohol. So it is sometimes a bigger issue than just educating them on this issue.”

She said she believes part of the solution is “for parents to be having communication at home, for the schools to be continuing to facilitate that communication as well, and then for any students that are identified as maybe becoming addicted, that they get the treatment services that they need.”

As addiction continues to plague Ohio, parents like Brittany Ward are concerned about their own children facing peer pressure.

“It definitely worries me and even though my son’s pretty young, he’ll be going to middle school here in a couple years,” Ward said.

Ward has a 9-year-old son and a 6-month-old baby. She’s also finishing her master’s in social work at Ohio State’s College of Social Work and said she’s learning about signs to watch for in young people who might be using.

“If you notice that your kids are hanging out with new friends, they are being kind of distant, those are small signs that we see that we need to dig a little deeper into,” Ward said.

She said communication is key.

“I think a lot of kids hold back and they don’t want to talk to their parents, but that relationship needs to be open,” Ward said.

The College of Social Work said it’s planning another conference for the fall.

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