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New analysis shows link between substance abuse and depression in Roanoke schools

The Roanoke Prevention Alliance presented new findings Tuesday

ROANOKE, Va. – As the fight to keep kids away from alcohol and drugs continues, there's new information on the link between substance abuse and depression in our area.

Members of the Roanoke Prevention Alliance and researchers at the Virginia Tech Center for Public Health Practice and Research presented analysis Tuesday of survey results from 2,000 middle and high school students in Roanoke City Public Schools.

10 News reported other findings from the survey on Dec. 5 and Dec. 6 that showed alarming levels of heroin use and high levels of depression.

The data shows students who had a drink or more of alcohol were more than 1.5 times more likely to have felt helpless for more than two weeks in a row.

"It is wrong for them to drink," RPA Director Melanie Morris said. "They are underage. It is illegal and there are health consequences that come into play."

And there are links between depression and students who use marijuana, electronic vape products, and heroin, and who misuse prescription drugs.

"The odds were much higher for youth who used substances, all substances that we looked at," Virginia Tech graduate research assistant Shelby Borowski said.

Substance abuse also affects suicidal thoughts.

The data shows students who had abused prescription drugs were nearly 10 times more likely to have attempted to end their own lives at least once and students who had used heroin were more than 15 times more likely to do so.

"It is startling to see the relationship between those substances and the correlation of depression and suicide attempts," Morris said.

The Roanoke Prevention Alliance is also addressing the perception kids have of how many of their peers are abusing substances. They completed a program that included speaking to students at Jackson Middle School about understanding that not everyone participates and talking to parents about their children's behavior.

"There is a total misconception about what the kids are doing," Morris said.

RPA members said the first year of a grant from the Drug Free Communities program was a success for changing perceptions on alcohol and marijuana. It's receiving $625,000 over the five years from the program, which the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy directs.

The group wanted to decrease the number of adults in Roanoke who feel it's OK for people under 21 to drink alcohol and they also want to educate legislators and other government officials on these topics.

Roanoke police Crime Prevention Specialist Josh Johnson attended Tuesday's presentation and said it’s good that there’s more awareness.

"It's very reassuring," he said. "People, being on the outside, don't really realize what's going on behind the scenes, realizing the amount of resources and people who are dedicated to the problem."

RPA members said they want to continue to help kids stay away and recover from substance abuse in the second year of using the grant money.