AKRON, N.Y. (WIVB)- It’s Monday morning at Akron High School.
“I’m doing something I do every year here,” explained State Trooper John Campanella, as he waits for students to arrive.
He’s speaking to Mrs. Constantino’s health class about drug abuse.
In recent years, these drugs prevention talks have developed a new focus.
“It has traditionally been tobacco, alcohol, marijuana. But now, the drug concern that we have clearly is the prescription pills and the heroin,” Julie Constantino tells News 4.
Trooper Campanella points out the fatal heroin batch in Erie County that killed seven people in 24 hours back in March.
“You don’t think it’s that big of a deal until you see it on the news and you’re like ‘oh wow, yesterday seven people because of just one thing,” says sophomore Casey Zuba.
Constantino says it’s not just the lethal substances young people are experimenting with she’s worried about, it’s why they’re doing it; that she says, has changed.
“In the 80s and the 90s, kids were using like they still use today, but they were using to get high and have fun with their friends. I see the biggest change today being that kids are using, some yes still to get high and have fun, but so many of them are using as a coping strategy,” she says.
You won’t find any old-school anti-drug campaigns in this classroom; forget “This is your brain on drugs.” Trooper Campanella opts for a more candidate approach with these high school students.
Addiction he says, is becoming a topic more young people are curious about. He guesses it’s because they know more people are dying, and perhaps they have witnessed addiction first hand.
“D.A.R.E. started in 1983. So you look back at 1983 to 2017, a lot has changed,” says Lt. Robert Richards with the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office.
The D.A.R.E. program starts in elementary schools. Lt. Richards runs the program for Niagara County.
Even fifth graders are beginning to learn about addiction and the toll it takes on communities. We ask some students at Starpointe Middle School what they think addiction is.
“Once you try it, it’s like you can’t stop,” one fifth grader tells us.
Some of these students are too young to have experienced peer pressure or substances abuse themselves, but D.A.RE. aims to make sure they develop good habits early on.
“I think the biggest threat is peer pressure. We talk about friendship in D.A.R.E, and at fifth grade and moving forward you really need to start making some hard decisions on who your friends are going to be,” Richards says.
At the time of the unforgettable anti-drug PSA where a rebellious teen tells his father “I learned it from watching you,” social media was still a pipe dream.
Constantino says Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat have impacted young people’s ability to cope.
“I think it’s too much pressure for them. There’s too much enticement for them to keep finding new things out on the phone and it puts them in situations that they don’t know how to deal with.”
We ask sophomore and student athlete Taylor Adamczak if social media makes being a teenager easier or harder.
“I think it’s a little bit of both,” she tells us.
“It is easier to access things and you can look things up easier and you can get a hold of more resources, but at the same time it’s not necessarily portraying everything as bad when it should be,” she says.
So what’s the key to a successful prevention campaign?
It’s not an easy answer, Trooper Campanella says.
Both and he and Mrs. Constantino work to make themselves approachable to their students, in the hopes that if they do encounter a problem, they’ll speak up.
“That’s the part I always wonder. like, am I saying the right thing to get to as many students as possible?” Campanella asks.
“If I knew just the words to say, that’s probably all I would say.”
State funding for D.A.R.E. stopped in 2008. Niagara County relies on a large annual fundraiser to keep the program going.