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Survey: Scores of Roanoke students have used heroin

Roanoke Times - 12/6/2017

A biennial survey of Roanoke students found more than 150 who have used heroin - including sixth- and eighth-graders - and two in 10 high school students who responded said they had attempted suicide.

Results from the 2017 survey by the Roanoke Prevention Alliance were presented Monday to the Roanoke City Council.

While the survey of 1,378 city middle school students and 671 high schoolers found good news in reduced use of alcohol, tobacco and vaping, students also described a dark aspect to many of their lives.

"It was very disturbing to look at these numbers," said Paula Prince of the prevention alliance.

The organization has conducted the survey of sixth-, eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders every other year for 20 years. The group uses a survey produced by the federal Centers for Disease Control that is used nationwide and administers it in school classrooms. Parents must opt their children out of the survey, Prince said.

This is the first time the completely anonymous survey has asked students about heroin use, and the council found the results alarming.

Six percent of middle school students who responded said they had used heroin in the 30 days prior to the survey. That's 73 young teens, including 22 sixth-graders.

Another 93 high school students, or 14 percent of respondents acknowledged heroin use.

Use of other substances, including alcohol, tobacco, marijuana and prescription drugs by middle schoolers was down from 10 years ago, according to Prince's presentation.

All of those but marijuana and prescription drugs were down for high schoolers in the survey. Pot smoking was up 46 percent over 2007, Prince said, while prescription drug use was up by 20 percent since 2013.

The survey found a strong correlation between pot and use of every other substance asked about, Prince said.

Questions about mental health found a prevalence of depression and hopelessness that troubled council members.

More than a quarter of middle school respondents and nearly 40 percent of high schoolers who completed the survey described weekslong bouts of depression and hopelessness in the previous year.

Fourteen percent of middle schoolers in the survey and 21 percent of high schoolers reported attempting suicide.

Of those, a third of the middle schoolers and nearly half of the high school students said their suicide attempts were serious enough to require medical treatment.

"That seems like it's about crisis mode," said Councilman John Garland.

"It's important that we talk about and acknowledge that this is going through the minds of our youth," said Vice Mayor Anita Price, a retired school guidance counselor.

She and others called to hold up the successes and the positive aspects of teens' lives in the city, something Roanoke could do as an antidote to the high instance of depression.

Councilman Bill Bestpitch was struck by the incongruity of so much hopelessness among students when the city's graduation rate, now near 90 percent, suggests greater success and more opportunity than ever.

Prince agreed, but added that graduation, while laudable, represents an end for many students, who see limited opportunity beyond it.

Bus fare increased

In other action, the council voted 6-0, with Councilwoman Michelle Dykstra absent, to approve raising the cost of a single ride on a Valley Metro bus from $1.50 to $1.75.

The increase takes effect in January.

The board of the Greater Roanoke Transit Authority - which operates Valley Metro - approved the increase last month, but rejected a proposal to restrict the number of rides on monthly passes for the system's STAR mini-buses.

Both votes followed a public hearing where many bus riders decried the lack of service after 8:30 p.m. and on Sundays.

However, the fare increase will not fund any expansion of service, but will allow maintaining existing routes and times.


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