ST. GEORGE — Some teens from Washington County high schools are coming together to advocate against substance abuse – a problem many of them have seen become too common in their families and schools.
The Washington County Youth Coalition is a group of about 25 teens who are passionate about helping their peers understand the risks of using drugs, alcohol or e-cigarettes. Members of the club meet weekly at the Southwest Utah Public Health Department to learn about the dangers of substance abuse and strategize ways to combat it with their classmates or family members.
“Drug use is becoming a big problem in our community, and if we’re educated about it, we’ll be able to stop it,” said Sage Anderson, a senior at Dixie High School and member of the coalition.
Substance abuse is something Anderson has seen firsthand; members of her family have struggled with addiction and some of them have been incarcerated for using drugs. One of the reasons Anderson joined the coalition to fight against drugs is seeing the consequences in her best friend’s life from becoming dependent on marijuana when they were in the eighth grade.
“When he started using, I didn’t really know the risks, and now that I know the risks, I can better educate my other friends because I don’t want to see that happen to anyone else,” Anderson said.
Substance abuse can not only affect the person using drugs or alcohol, but it can also affect their loved ones, said Westley Trease, a senior at Pine View High School. Trease said his birth parents used drugs, which caused him to go in and out of foster care while his parents were in and out of jail.
“I looked up to them and then they did all that stuff, so it made it hard for me, but I found some resources and I got through that.”
Trease is now aiming to help his friends and others around him to not fall into the same trap of abusing drugs or alcohol as part of the coalition. He’s part of the group because he wants to “make a positive impact and a difference in the community.”
One member of the coalition needed to put locks on cabinet doors in her house to prevent her father from overdosing on opiates. Her parents got divorced and her father went to jail because of the substance abuse.
Another coalition member spoke about how her father is an alcoholic with his friends, which causes harm to her family and her father’s friends’ families.
“After they’re done partying, they’ll go home and totally trash their family and make up excuses to get mad at us,” she said. “I’m here because I want to make relatable situations with my friends and say, ‘Hey, that’s not good because this is happening to my family and other families.'”
Though their numbers are few compared to all the high schoolers in the Washington County School District, members of the coalition want their peers to know the dangers of alcohol and drugs and to avoid it at all costs. By attending events like St. George StreetFest, they are also taking their message outside of the high schools and into the community.
“Alcohol and drugs will ruin your life,” said Taylor Cutchen, a senior from Desert Hills High School. “The one time you try it, it may either hook you or kill you, so I would really encourage people to forget the peer pressure and just stay away from it.”
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