How Indianapolis Police Officer Chase Lyday Is Fighting Teenage Substance Abuse
For many people, the temptations of tobacco, drugs and alcohol first rear their ugly heads during adolescence. Unfortunately, this is precisely when we are most susceptible to falling under their influence. Although teenage drug use and substance abuse have seen encouraging downward trends in recent years, they remain serious health risks for high-school aged children in America.
The 2018 Monitoring the Future Survey, conducted every year by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, found moderate rates of substance use among 12th graders across the country:
- 58.5% had used alcohol at some point in their life, and 30% used alcohol in the past month
- 24% had ever smoked a cigarette, and 30% reported consuming nicotine via vaping
- 6% used marijuana daily, and 7.5% consumed marijuana via vaping in the past month
- 12.4% used illicit drugs other than marijuana in the past year
In response to the threat tobacco, drugs and alcohol pose to young people, a number of central Indiana organizations are working to combat teenage substance abuse and help set youth down a better path in life. One such organization is doing this by nurturing strong community and familial ties and providing drug users with treatment instead of punishment.
Strengthening Families with the Decatur Township Drug-Free Coalition
As an Indiana State School Resource Officer for the Decatur Township School Police Department, Chase Lyday has witnessed firsthand the drug-related struggles that teens face. Wanting to do more for his community, he founded the Decatur Township Drug-Free Coalition to help keep local youth from the harms of drug use.
“Our mission is to prevent and reduce drug use among youth by strengthening families and collaborating with community resources,” Lyday says. A large part of this mission is accomplished through free community events, which give students and parents the opportunity to learn about drug use prevention and grow together as a family.
The Coalition also leverages its presence in schools to provide drug prevention education in the classroom. Students are then asked to discuss what they learned with their parents, providing another opportunity to develop family bonds.
“The last program that we have kicked off this year is a social/emotional learning curriculum for all of our kids in kindergarten through eighth grade. That is a tremendous tool that we have to teach kids how to have social competencies to repel drug use. But also, we partner with parents in that initiative by sending home discussion guides for the parents to be able to engage in some of those discussions with their kids,” Lyday says.
Emphasizing Treatment, Not Punishment
Too often, a child or teen who admits to struggling with substance abuse is faced with punishment. They may be kicked off their sports team, suspended from school or even expelled. This encourages students to keep quiet, which only prevents them from receiving the help they need.
The fact is that substance abuse is frequently the result of underlying emotional problems. In a recent survey, the Decatur Township Drug-Free Coalition asked 564 students what they thought was the biggest reason some high school students abuse drugs, and the results were telling: 64% said to escape their mood or feelings, and another 56% said to deal with anxiety.
“With our coalition, we’ve even started an alternative to arrest program,” Lyday says. “Some of our kids that have mental health needs or social and emotional needs, instead of arresting them, we send them to a program where they can serve with us, get connected with the communities and school social workers that we have, and get connected with some of our school resource officers. We really try to come around them and build them up rather than shun them or punitively arrest them, or kick them out of school.”
Bringing in Help from Mental Health Organizations
One of the Decatur Township Drug-Free Coalition’s partners in its initiatives is Cummins Behavioral Health Systems, which provides school-based mental health services in over 150 schools across central Indiana. Cummins works alongside the Coalition in cases where therapy is the right treatment solution for a student battling substance abuse.
“We provide behavioral health services,” explains Stephanie Whiteside, Director of School-Based Operations for Marion County. “Within the schools, the home, and the community, we provide traditional therapy services for a wide range of mental health needs. We also provide skills training like coaching and modeling so kids can develop better skills for decision making.”
Like Lyday’s Coalition, Cummins strives to involve parents in their children’s mental health issues and treatment. This includes providing education about mental health disorders and access to resources for families strapped by time or money. “A lot of the areas we work in are families that are stretched to the limit,” Whiteside says.
Together, the Decatur Township Drug-Free Coalition and Cummins Behavioral Health Systems are working to empower families, build supportive communities and reduce substance abuse among our youth. If you’d like to help, you can get in contact with the Coalition through its website or its increasingly popular Facebook page.
Indiana State Representative Wendy McNamara has pushed for legislation providing increased resources like these for schools. She reports that, “Its important for people to understand that teachers and schools cannot do this alone. We need every tool available to help students in need.” Wendy also recommends reading the Governors Task Force on School Safety Report from Aug 2018. Learn more about these legislative efforts here.