STAND Youth Intervention Program

February 22, 2023

It’s often–and correctly–said that the key to prevention is breaking a self-reinforcing cycle. This is why youth intervention is the most crucial and effective method of intervention. If kids grow up seeing their parents struggle with addiction, they are far more likely to develop a substance use disorder themselves. Treating the parents is absolutely necessary, but unless we engage youth, it’s going to be hard to break that cycle.

This is what Scott County’s Schools Together Allowing No Drugs (STAND) coalition fights for every day. “We have a lot of domestic violence and child abuse that comes with addiction,” said Trent Coffey, executive director of STAND. “It’s all interrelated and wrapped around. To fix that, we can’t just treat one portion of it, we’ve got to treat all of it…we have to treat the family, we can’t just treat the individual.”

STAND has been performing non-punitive drug testing in K-12 schools since it was formed in early 2000. When they find a student testing positive for drug use, they don’t kick the kid out of school, they instead use the information to better target prevention programming. “What we’re trying to do is we [identify] those individuals and reach out into the family unit, and get the whole family healed, healthy and sober.” STAND also sponsors drug take-backs and works with law enforcement on a number of youth and workforce initiatives.

“We used to be a prosperous community back when coal and timber were big, back in the ‘60s and ‘70s,” Coffey said. “But after those things dried up, we now have a little bit of manufacturing, but it’s usually low pay, high stress, hard on the body jobs, and now it’s sedentary, so a lot of people are self-medicating to take care of that pain, and then it just becomes a generational concept. We see kids that go to school that haven’t seen their parents work the whole time from kindergarten to 12th grade.”

Even though illicit drug use among youth has come back down to pre-pandemic levels from an all-time-high in 2020, and remained at those levels throughout 2022, these rates are still concerning. Almost a third of all high school seniors admitted to using some illicit substance within the past year, with cannabis, alcohol, and nicotine remaining the most commonly used substances.

Fortunately, opioid-related prevention efforts (as well as the nationwide conversation about fentanyl’s lethality) appear to be having a strong effect. Less than 3 percent of youth report using opioids, and over 50 percent of high school seniors said they perceived a “great risk” associated with taking opioid pills. These are extremely promising results.

“One of the reasons we’re so focused on youth is that I’ve beaten my head against the wall for a long time with adults…they’re hard to change. It can be done but it takes a long time,” Coffey said.

For more information about STAND, listen to the full interview that the SMART Initiative conducted with Coffey for the SMART Policy Podcast, available on all podcast platforms.