Parkersburg South students hear drug-awareness message

PARKERSBURG, W.Va. (WTAP) - Educating students about drug abuse starts with making sure they get the facts.

That's one goal of a joint program involving the Gov. Jim Justice’s office, the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety and federal Drug Enforcement Agency.

With that in mind, officials talked to about 1,500 students and Parkersburg South High School Thursday afternoon and a large group of younger students at Kanawha Elementary School on Wednesday. They focused on drug abuse, addiction and what happens when someone decides to use illegal drugs.

Jack Luikart, director of drug-control policy for WVDMAPS, has spent his entire law-enforcement career as working as an anti-narcotics officer at several levels. He said it’s vital for students to be taught the true dangers of using marijuana, opiates or even prescription drugs.

The hope, he said, is that students will use the information they’re given to understand that many people and groups have their own agenda when it comes to most types of drugs. He cited the legalization of recreational marijuana in some states, particularly, Colorado, as an example.

Touted as a boon to the economy, Luikart said statistics show that hasn’t happened, and, in fact, he said the state is now forced to deal with more crime, higher dropout rates and other problems that can be directly linked to marijuana use.

Ultimately, he said the goal is to help young people make more-informed decisions that will lead them away from a life of drug abuse.

"West Virginia is No. 1in the United States for drug-overdose deaths, per capita,” he said. “We're No. 1 in the United States for neonatal abstinence syndrome, babies born addicted to drugs. And we feel that if we can come to the schools, speak to our students, provide them with the information to make better decisions, maybe we can do something about that."

Since starting the program about a year ago, Luikart said officials have talked to more than 30,000 students across the Mountain State.