ROANOKE, Va. - The national opioid epidemic is affecting people of all ages and backgrounds in our area and across the country, and new results from a survey show that middle and high school students are not exceptions.
The Roanoke Prevention Alliance administered a survey in March to 2,000 students in Roanoke City Public Schools.
The survey shows more than 150 middle and high school students, including 15 percent of high schoolers, said they had used heroin in the last 30 days, and 6 percent of middle school students said they had used it.
Susan Rieves-Austin is a board member for the Roanoke Prevention Alliance, the group that conducted the survey, and a prevention, planning and evaluation manager at Blue Ridge Behavioral Healthcare.
"Now it's something that has come to the forefront. So it is something that we will be looking at more closely," she said.
The survey, which City Council members saw Monday, is based on a national survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"We've been implementing the Youth Behavior Risk Survey in Roanoke City since 2000," Rieves-Austin said.
This is the first time the survey has asked about recent heroin use. In 2015, it asked about lifetime heroin use, and 5 percent fewer high school students answered that they had ever used the drug.
Rieves-Austin says one conclusion is that there’s a connection between heroin and prescription opioid use.
"Eighteen percent used prescription drugs that were not prescribed to them in the past 30 days," she said.
The CDC tested the survey questions beforehand to make sure kids of these specific ages understood them.
"The research behind it says that this survey is valid and reliable," Rieves-Austin said.
Other areas of substance abuse are seeing decreases among Roanoke students. At the high school level, tobacco and alcohol use have both dropped at least seven percent.
Rieves-Austin believes the problems stem from outside the school day.
"We need everybody to understand this is a community issue. This is not a school issue," she said.
Roanoke City Schools Superintendent Dr. Rita Bishop said the district is trying to address specifically the issue of heroin use.
"It's very troubling," she said.
She said there will be a series of information sessions next semester for both students and adults.
"To parents and guardians in particular, there are signs that we all need to be aware of with students," she said.
The CDC hasn’t yet released the national results of this survey for this year, but those numbers should be available in the next few months.
The Roanoke Prevention Alliance is working with the Roanoke Area Youth Substance Abuse Coalition to help combat the drug problem among kids. RAYSAC received a grant to focus on prescription drug and heroin use of 12-25-year-olds. The coalition started putting a plan in motion a few months ago.
RAYSAC is also working with the DEA on a new prevention curriculum that can be introduced in area schools, called "Operation Prevention."
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