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Colorado Is Threatened By Rising Drug Use, Amidst Calls For More Mental Health Resources.


Education has always been a key right for all Coloradans and equal access to education has been an issue that has plagued the United States and Colorado for a long time, however, there is a much darker pandemic that is sweeping the nation. The rise of stronger and more dangerous methamphetamine is leading to an uptick in overdose deaths in Colorado and the U.S. The rise in overdose deaths has the ability to threaten more adolescents in Colorado; however, there is hope as local and federal recourse are becoming more available and reaching the family and students that need it the most.

In past years, Colorado has seen upticks in drug use and drug-related deaths, however, Colorado is becoming acutely aware of the drug rise and its growing effect on students and their families. The greatest tool in the fight against drug use and its impact on students has been information from the Rise Above Colorado program. Rise Above Colorado program has the mission of “Rise Above Colorado is a statewide prevention organization that measurably impacts teen perceptions and attitudes about the risks of substance misuse to help youth make empowered, healthy choices.” RAC (Rise Above Colorado) has been taking in vital surveys and information from students and teens around Colorado. The information is collected through a completely anonymous survey is helps to inform State and Local Governments of the threats against students and Adolescents in Colorado.

The use of RAC has helped to bridge the gap between the perception and reality of drug use, RAC is helping to really show the truth behind the perspective numbers and revile the truly accurate numbers. Through RAC people are able to see that in fact there is not an increase in drug use among Colorado adolescents and students, however, behind this good news lies a new concern and a possibly looming threat. The RAC collected the statistical data for the last 30 days. The data revealed a startling and concerning statistic that is very different from the last survey. Adolescents are now reporting that their partners are living with substance abuse issues, two out of five teens are reporting this concerning sign. The executive director of the RAC, Kent MacLennan, stated in the RAC article from September 14, “It’s concerning that more teens are seeing adults they live with having issues with alcohol or drugs.” This statement really highlights the need for parents of adolescents to be aware of their drug use and causes when using around adolescents.

The Data by the RAC is even more worrying when the RAC reviled that female adolescents are disproportionately feeling the effects of this rise. The number of female adolescents that reported their adults having a substance abuse disorder has since doubled since 2020, with a shocking 47% rise to 22% in 2020. RAC is reporting this Rise as being “significantly higher than for their male counterparts.” This report by the RAC also reviled that female adolescents that spend more than three hours on social media are more likely to misuse marijuana, alcohol, and pills. The RAC also reported that female adolescents are also reporting a more significant curiosity to try substances. The rise in female curiosity about substances tied together with reports of increases in adults misusing substances has caused an increase in female teens' use of all substances, which while a very small increase still has serious consequences.


Is there Hope for Poudre High School?

Luckily for the time being Poudre High School has weathered this rise in overall drug use in Colorado. In an interview conducted on September 14, with one of the Poudre High School Deans of Students, Kevin Faw, was asked if Poudre High School was seeing a rise in drug use. Mr. Faw responded with the statement “We really have not, actually and really with post-pandemic, we've been seeing students finding different ways to cope.” In fact, Faw even went on record stating that Poudre High School was seeing a decline in drug use during this post-pandemic school year. “We feel like a decline with this post-pandemic… and drug use among students here at Poudre High School.” The RAC and their accumulated information on the topic would corroborate with Faw’s statements. Mr. Faw has given a rare insight into the fight against drug use at Poudre High School and tied it with the information provided by RAC.

Hope continues to grow as the RAC also revealed in its latest article, that more adolescents are becoming acutely aware of the risk posed by laced substances. The RAC stated in their latest article, “Concern is relatively high among teens about the possibility of receiving laced substances, with 90% seeing at least a 'moderate amount of risk' associated with taking pills that were purchased online,” this information is extremely hopeful as it shows that more than 90% of adolescents are aware of laced substances. More adolescents that know laced substances are key in the fight to save lives and avoid overdoses due to laced substances.

Stagnant numbers for Colorado youth associated with substance use is a good sign, as it points to the fact that resources and access to help are reaching students. With this positive progress toward helping students facing substance use. There are still warning signs that point to other issues that could be more devastating to student health and threaten Colorado’s youth and their education. The Threat that might grow to destroy Colorado's progress in the fight against substance use, is the rise in mental health disorders among Colorado youth and adults.


Is There a Connection Between Mental Health, and Substance Use?

The use of substances has been linked to Mental health, with studies compiled in many articles. An April 2022 article by the National Institute On Drug Abuse covers the relationship between substance abuse and mental health. The article suggested that individuals that develop substance abuse disorders are also found to have been diagnosed with mental health disorders, and vice versa. The article by National Institute On Drug Abuse stated, "Substance use disorders also co-occur at high prevalence with mental disorders, such as depression and bipolar disorder." This statement conveys the idea that mental health and substance use might be linked, and if mental health disorders and issues rise then there will be an equal substance use rise, and vice versa.

The possible link between mental health and substance use is concerning seeing as for the moment there are many people in this post-pandemic world that have been struggling with mental health, "many" might be an understatement, to say the least. The traumatic times of the COVID-19 pandemic have left scars on adolescents around Colorado. These metal health scars have shown themselves to pose a risk greater than the substance abuse crises Colorado adolescents face. An interview conducted with Kathy Mackay, the principal at Poudre High School, confirmed and revealed the extent of the mental health crises at Poudre High School. Principal Mackay stated in an interview on October 7, 2022, that Poudre High School was receiving multiple alerts from the Safe To Tell the App every day. If you are not already familiar with the app Safe To Tell, he app is a 24-7 messaging service that collects anonymous tips ranging from information regarding mental health to substance abuse issues, as well as countless other issues that can be reported. These alerts are collected and then sent to school administrators and local law enforcement that have the resources to take action to help the student and adolescents in crises. The number of Safe To Tell alerts regarding mental health crises has grown significantly, as a result of the deepening financial constraints put upon families during the pandemic and post-pandemic times.

If mental health and substance abuse are linked then it would reflect the current situation in Colorado with the rise of substance abuse and mental health and vice versa. These previous statements and information provided would bring to mind the question If mental health and substance use is linked, then why is Poudre High School not seeing a rise in substance use, if at the same time Poudre High School is experiencing its worst rise in mental health cases, and students facing mental health crises? The simple answer to that question is simply to look at the support systems provided at Poudre High School. Poudre High School has some of the most robust and extensive support systems with many counselors specializing in substance abuse and mental health. Poudre High School has also applied for and received state grants that have been devoted to training and employing counselors and teachers that are able to provide complex care to students. Poudre High School is also receiving aid from local law enforcement such as the School Resource Officer, Josh Golden. In the same interview on October 7th with Principal Kathy Mackay, Principal Mackay stated that Poudre High School has "more counselors … than any other high school [in the area]." Poudre High School continues to focus on taking steps to help the student community weather the mental health crises and substance use rise in Colorado.

In the latest article by RAC, there was a statement by Kent MacLennan, the executive director of Rise Above Colorado, that summed up the situation for Colorado adolescents. “These latest survey results offer cause for both concern and hope. The reduced perception of harm for substance use among the youngest teens and the increase in offers of substances is a big red flag.” This article is not to scare Coloradans, but to rather inform Coloradoans to be wise to the causes of their substance use and understand that their substance use can threaten the lives and stability of the adolescences around them.

If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts or actions, there is help available. The national suicide prevention hotline is available 24/7 with resources and people standing by to help both in English and Spanish. Call 988 or go to 988lifeline.org for more information and resources. The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline is a United States-based suicide prevention network of over 200+ crisis centers that provides 24/7 service via a toll-free hotline with the number 9-8-8. It is available to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. In addition, the Safe To Tell app is available and connected to local resources on a 24/7 basis and counselors and mental health specialists in the office are available to sit down with you in person. Don't hesitate, seek help.


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Jarin Clapp is a reporter with the Poudre Press and the Head writer for Operation Copper Rain News.

The mission of OCR news is to bring informative local and international news, with fact-based reporting that drives a community based on facts and truths.


Works Cited

Faith Miller, Colorado Newsline July 15. “Largest Jump in Colorado Overdose Deaths in More than 20 Years, Data Show.” Colorado Newsline, 15 July 2021, coloradonewsline.com/briefs/largest-jump-in-colorado-overdose-deaths-in-more-than-20-years-data-show/.

“Part 1: The Connection Between Substance Use Disorders and Mental Illness.” National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 27 Sept. 2022, nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/common-comorbidities-substance-use-disorders/part-1-connection-between-substance-use-disorders-mental-illness.

Published: Dec 13, 2021. “Mental Health and Substance Use State Fact Sheets.” KFF, 21 Apr. 2022, www.kff.org/statedata/mental-health-and-substance-use-state-fact-sheets/colorado/.

Safarik, Hillary. “Press Releases.” Press and Media Release Information About Rise Above, www.riseaboveco.org/articles/press14092022.html.

Safarik, Hillary. “Press Releases.” News and Drug Abuse Information for Colorado Teens and Parents, www.riseaboveco.org/news.html.




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