Prevention is the best treatment for substance abuse.
Grandview Heights High School will continue its commitment to that line of thought Thursday, Nov. 21, as former NBA player Chris Herren speaks to students about his journey through substance abuse and recovery.
"As a parent, you have got to be aware. I want my kids to be directly aware of the risks and the impacts of what can happen," said Todd McCollough, father of two students at the high school. "It can happen at any age."
Herren's college basketball career at Boston College and then Fresno State presented numerous warnings about his addiction. His talent pushed him through to the NBA draft, where he was selected to play for the Denver Nuggets and later traded to his hometown team, the Boston Celtics.
During his time in the NBA, he battled with drug and alcohol addiction, eventually causing a near-death experience and an end to his career, according to a press release.
McCollough said he first saw Herren speak on ESPN's documentary Unguarded. Now, Herren tours the country telling his story with Project Purple, an initiative that helps people with addiction. By working with Buckeye Community Health Plan and the school's PTO, McCollough was able to bring Herren to the high school.
"I think he brings a first-person account to the devastation that can happen," McCollough said. "I think his message is inspiring for kids to be kids and to just be themselves."
Earlier in the school year, as part of the Grandview Heights Speaker Series, the PTO worked with the Franklin County Sheriff's Department for a lecture called Operation Street Smarts. The lecture educated students about different types of drugs and the effects they have.
PTO members wanted Herren to offer a different perspective.
"This is an opportunity for a logical build-on to actually see someone from a rehab-treatment perspective," said Melanie Luckenbach, vice president of the high school PTO and a mom of five students in the district.
Grandview Heights police officer Scott Hiles leads educational programs in all three Grandview schools about drugs and alcohol. Through his talks with middle school and high school students, Hiles said he has learned alcohol, marijuana and prescription drugs are the most common substances among the district's students.
"We've had everything come through Grandview, but it's not consistent," Hiles said. "With the schools, I tend to find the kids with prescription drugs and marijuana.
"Alcohol is an issue within our community, but it is behind closed doors. Trying to crack down on it is hard," he added.
High schools around Ohio implement drug and alcohol education as part of the health curriculum, but the problems continue to surface in schools. According to a 2011 Department of Health and Human Services report, 18 percent of Ohio students have consumed alcohol before the age of 13.
The same report also said 43 percent of high school students in Ohio have tried marijuana at least once, and 8 percent had used pain relievers for nonmedical reasons in the previous year.
Nationally, 20 percent of high school students have tried alcohol before age 13, 40 percent have tried marijuana at least once, and 6 percent have used pain relievers for nonmedical reasons.
Currently, 330 students are enrolled at the high school. Principal Ken Chaffin said the school offers several drug-prevention programs, such as substance-abuse education in health classes, speakers such as Herren, school counselors and psychologists, and drug intervention.
Chaffin said the school has had instances with students using substances in the past, but was unable to comment on specifics.
"You always have to treat drugs, alcohol and substance abuse as if it is an issue," Chaffin said. "It's a moving target and you have to learn how it is changing and how it impacts our kids and families."
According to Grandview Heights police reports, 73 of the 1,041 police reports in 2012, or 7 percent, involved drug violations.
"For the most part, it is under control," Hiles said. "There are cases here and there in the city. I don't think we have a huge problem inside the school. It might, but hasn't been brought to our attention."
School officials and local law enforcement said they are concerned with alcohol and marijuana use among youths, as the two drugs often are thought to lead to stronger drugs such as heroin.
Chaffin said issues with heroin have not surfaced in the high school.
"Any high school right now, you are certainly worried about alcohol. You are certainly worried about them getting into marijuana, and then prescription drugs have really risen to the scene," Chaffin said. "Oftentimes, marijuana will be a gateway into heroin, which has risen into many high schools but hasn't surfaced here necessarily."
Grandview Heights police occasionally see heroin, including earlier this month, when two men from Hilliard and Grove City were charged with heroin possession.
Hiles said Grandview's tight-knit community helps law enforcement crack down on drugs within the city and prevent it from entering the schools.
"We can't do our jobs unless we have the community behind us," Hiles said.
Chris Herren's presentation was planned for 9:45 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 21, at the high school. A program called "What You Need to Know: Preventing Substance Abuse in the Community," featuring Robin Seymour-Hicks of Drug Safe Worthington, will take place from 7 to 9 p.m. today at the high school.