A survey of more than 200 students from four Highland County high schools provided researchers a look at childhood trauma rates here — a problem that often leads to adolescent drug abuse, according to experts.
The survey was of participating high school students from Hillsboro, McClain, Lynchburg-Clay and Fairfield. Some surveys were conducted in person, others by students completing questionnaires online.
Seventeen percent of students who completed the Life Events Checklist Survey reported they had taken an illicit substance such as marijuana, alcohol, non-prescribed opioids or hallucinogenics in the past 30 days, according to a summary of the survey provided to The Times-Gazette.
Heather Gibson, president of the Highland County Drug Abuse Prevention Coalition and CEO of local advocacy nonprofit REACH for Tomorrow, said the survey was designed to give coalition members an idea of how many students had experienced childhood trauma versus how many had reported using drugs.
As previously reported, the coalition is seeking data from local individuals from all walks of life on the prevalence of drug abuse in order to develop a comprehensive strategic plan for the coalition moving forward.
The project, funded by a nearly $1 million grant from the state awarded to REACH, includes determining the scope of drug abuse in Highland County so REACH staffers and members of the coalition’s Prevention Committee can draft an appropriate plan in coming months.
Danielle Ratcliff, chief operating officer at REACH, said several studies and surveys found that young people who experienced childhood trauma were more likely to abuse drugs — and with that in mind, the results of the Life Events Checklist Survey were “eye opening.”
Of the 237 students between the ages of 15-18 who participated in the survey:
• 60 percent reported experiencing a transportation accident.
• 50 percent reported their parents were separated or divorced.
• 35 percent reported experiencing another very stressful event or experience.
• 34 percent reported a household member had been depressed, mentally ill or had attempted suicide.
• 30 percent reported being exposed to a parent or caregiver using an illegal substance like marijuana, methadone, heroin or non-prescribed pain pills.
• 30 percent reported being physically assaulted.
• 30 percent reported experiencing a parent or other adult in the household often swearing at them, insulting them, putting them down, humiliating them or acting in a way that made them afraid they might be physically hurt.
• 25 percent reported feeling no one in their family loved them or thought they were important or special, or that their family didn’t look out for or support each other.
• 24 percent reported a member of their household had been to prison.
• 17 percent reported feeling they didn’t have enough to eat, had to wear dirty clothes, felt they had no one to protect them, or reported that their parents were too drunk or high to take care of them.
• 14 percent reported being subjected to an unwanted or uncomfortable sexual experience.
• 11 percent reported being sexually assaulted.
• 10 percent reported being assaulted with a weapon.
Gibson said the survey is just one piece of a larger data puzzle that researchers will review in coming months, but it’s beginning to give them a clearer picture of the engines of drug abuse here.
“We’re setting up a false solution if we’re treating the drug epidemic by looking at addiction and not treating the roots of addiction,” she said. “What we want to do… is determine the ‘why’ so we can drill down into that and put programming in place that will truly make a difference and an impact on drug use.”
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570, or on Twitter @DavidWrighter.