Probation department gives insight on teen drug use


GREENFIELD — Hancock County teens abuse mainly alcohol and marijuana, but area officials have found other drugs gaining popularity among the county’s high school students.

Hancock County Juvenile Probation Department officers say their interactions with at-risk youth have given them valuable insight about what drugs are increasing in popularity at each of the county’s high schools, and they are holding informational sessions with parents to raise awareness and discuss strategies for prevention.

Amy Ikerd, a crime prevention specialist with the probation department, has been keeping track of drug use trends among the teens she evaluates:

Prescription drugs seem to be popular among the Greenfield-Central students she councils.

Ecstasy tablets, or “Molly,” are popular among the Mt. Vernon students.

•Marijuana is overwhelmingly common among her New Palestine students.

•Some of the Eastern Hancock students she advises dabble with heroin.

Ikerd cautioned that her findings are not standards, nor are they a reflection of the school district as a whole; these are simply the drugs of choice for students being monitored by the probation program. These records help her better meet the probation department’s mission to decrease delinquent behavior in the county by redirecting criminals toward education, treatment and further community resources.

This week, Ikerd revealed her findings to a handful of parents at an event hosted by probation officers, law enforcement and recovery program directors at the Hancock County Public Library, where they discussed their suspicions with a handful of adults.

Although that insight is based on the teens they work with in the juvenile probation program, officials say it’s likely the problems spread across the county.

“The adults in this county need to come out of denial,” said Linda Ostewig, director of The Landing, a local drug recovery program for youth. “Our young people are suffering, and they’re using. It’s right here in our backyard.”

The county’s juvenile probation division is made up of three officers who work closely with the department’s two crime prevention specialists to assist youth offenders. Ikerd evaluates 50 to 60 students per year; so far in 2015, she’s met with 36.

“I find out everything from the kids, everything that’s new,” Ikerd said during the presentation.

Sgt. Christine Rapp, Hancock County’s DARE officer, said she remembers when teens getting their hands on a six pack of beer was a big deal. Those days are long gone, she said, and teens are exhibiting more dangerous alcohol use.

Now, some teens are binge drinking regularly to the point they pass out, Rapp said during the presentation. The drugs teens get their hands on have higher concentrations of chemicals in them, making them even more dangerous than in the past, she added.

At The Landing, the rise in teen drug use is apparent. The group seems to grow larger each month, Ostewig said.

Since the group began two years ago, its weekly meetings have grown from 10 teens to about 48 regularly attending.

“(Teen drug users) have destructive lifestyles; they make poor decisions,” Ostewig said. “There are circumstances that we can’t change. We’re trying to give them the principles of recovery so that, when they go back into their environment, they can make better choices.”

Officials at The Landing hope to bulk up program offerings to include meetings on Monday and Wednesday and further programs for parents and family members of addicts.

If families know their teens are struggling with addiction, it’s best to approach their sobriety as a team, juvenile probation officer Mary Kay Dobbs said. Getting youth into different treatment programs where they can meet new, sober friends is essential to recovery, she explained.

When teens feel in control of their addiction, the likelihood they’ll stick to their treatment is greater, Dobbs said.

“One of kids’ biggest concerns is that they don’t want to lose their friends,” Dobbs said. “We all really do understand the peer pressure kids are going through. It’s very empowering to sit in a room full of people your same age that know what you’re going through.”

The probation department will continue these discussions with two more informational events this summer. On July 28, organizers will discuss community resources offered to teens. On Aug. 25, they will discuss youth choices and consequences.

This week, only a handful of parents or guardians attended. Organizers say there is space for about 20, and they hope more will attend future programs.

To register, call 317-477-1135 ext. 2 or email [email protected].