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Survey shows drug use growing among younger students

By Meg Dickens
Staff Writer

A.C.T.I.O.N Coalition joined the Johnson County Commissioners to discuss drug use in children and young adults during the Thursday, September 17 meeting. With permission from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), A.C.T.I.O.N takes an annual survey of eighth, tenth, and twelfth-grade students to evaluate how to move forward with drug prevention. Coincidentally this falls during National Recovery Month, which County Mayor Mike Taylor signed a declaration to include in Johnson County this August.

“The results that we have gotten from these surveys have been used to identify patterns in youth substance use, attitudes, and behaviors, effectively targeting allocation for prevention resources,” said Executive Director Trish Burchette. “We look at this to see if a number has increased and what we need to do to target those areas and help the kids to bring those numbers back down.”

Officials update the County Commission on results each September, but COVID-19 interfered with data collection for 2020. EMT data (Evaluation Management Training) from 2015 to 2019 shows an unfortunate trend. On average, younger students in Johnson County are having their first contact with drugs earlier than the regional average. This region includes Sullivan, Carter, Washington, Unicoi, and Johnson Counties.

“We are hoping to add sixth-grade to the survey this year because we are seeing an increase in substance use in our students twelve and under,” Burchette continued.

The trend is not by a large margin and varies in different categories and years. Over the survey span, students are starting to wait slightly longer before trying cigarettes or marijuana. Alcohol age rose in the 2017-2018 school year but dropped again the next school year. On average, surveyed students in Johnson County start between 12 and 13-years-old.

Burchette emphasized the need to focus on awareness, prevention, and recovery. Moving forward, A.C.T.I.O.N plans to partner with the Families Free Recovery Court Program to offer recovery support for those affected, such as helping them find a job. In the name of awareness, A.C.T.I.O.N will also have a Recovery Walk starting at First Christian Church Family Life Center on September 25 at 5 p.m. Anyone interested can contact A.C.T.I.O.N for more information or a free recovery t-shirt while supplies last.

Find out more about ACTION Coalition and its plans on or Facebook at @ACTIONCoalition.