Many Tooele, Summit teens turn to drugs

March 26, 2009

By the time teens in Summit County hit their senior year in high school, six out of 10 are at risk for drug and alcohol abuse. And in Tooele County, binge drinking, drug use and anti-social behavior peaks at 36 percent around the 10th grade.

These two counties lead the state in percentage of troubled teens, according to a versatile Web page developed by the University of Utah’s Utah Criminal Justice Center.

The online site, displays data from Student Health and Risk Prevention (SHARP) surveys conducted statewide in 2003, 2005 and 2007.

The state-sponsored surveys were conducted in grades 6, 8, 10 and 12 in 38 school districts.

“This tool was designed for intervention and prevention efforts, to make smart decisions about where to put funding,” the Justice Center’s Mike Tanana told the Governor’s Gang Task Force at its monthly session Thursday.

Many of Tooele County’s at-risk students drop out by the 12th grade, Tanana added.

Within weeks of school’s start, clients begin to pour into the office of Alex Gonzalez, juvenile alcohol and drug coordinator for Tooele County’s Valley Mental Health.

Junior high students, on their first offense, get routed to Teen and Alcohol Drug School. A 16-week program is available for teens caught more than once, Gonzalez added.

And for those with serious habits, teens can be assigned to drug court where they undergo both individual and family therapy, he said.

“Most of them start with alcohol, then smoke marijuana,” Gonzalez said. “Some in drug court are up to heroin or cocaine.”

Gonzalez praised the teens he has counseled.

“They are good kids who lack the tools to deal with everyday life issues,” Gonzalez said, noting that substance abuse offers an escape from family conflicts and other pressures.

Park City School District officials are also trying to address their challenges head-on.

“The high school has implemented a number of programs to combat drug and alcohol use,” said Park City School Board President Kim Carson, noting that extracurricular activities help shrink the time students have to dabble with drugs.

And student breathalyzer tests have become a routine part of school dances and sport activities, Carson added.

“I think it’s helping as far as what takes place on school grounds,” she said.