Elkins was one of four communities in the U.S. to participate in a national program Thursday designed to encourage teens to stay in control of their lives and remain "above the influence."
Youth gathered for the Above the Influence Day program at Davis & Elkins College to hear teens from Randolph, Harrison and Taylor counties describe how they resist negative behaviors such as drug and alcohol abuse.
The panel of teens included Elkins High School students Jaden Reams and Becky Smith from Randolph County, Emily Lopez and Marissa Bailey from Harrison County and Matthew Marren and Rachel Miller from Taylor County.
The Inter-Mountain photo by Beth Christian Broschart
The National Youth Leadership Initiative in West Virginia observes the first national Above the Influence Day Thursday at Davis & Elkins College. Teens from Randolph, Harrison and Taylor counties talked about negative pressure and drug use during the cross-country discussion.
Similar discussions in Washington, D.C., Aberdeen, Md. and Elko, Nev., also were part of the event via remote Skype technology.
Students on the local panel responded to questions about their communities and lives. Bailey said it was important for teens to be around positive influences.
"You must surround yourself with friends that are like you and avoid negative influences," Bailey said. "That way you are not pressured to do things you should not do."
"You need to know what different groups of kids are doing, and if it's bad, stay away from them," Miller said. "If a friend says to me 'let's get alcohol,' I say no and try to influence them to have fun without that stuff."
Another question related to the use of prescription drug abuse in West Virginia.
"Our area is very laid-back and rural," Smith said. "Kids are having barn parties where they fill punch bowls with prescription drugs mixed up. It is very dangerous."
Miller said she has heard about parties with prescription drugs in her area as well.
"The parties here are referred to as skittle parties," Miller said. "Everyone brings in prescription drugs and they mix them up in a bowl. They say they are very colorful, like Skittles candy."
The teens were asked how they thought the problem could be fixed.
"I think parents need to lock up their prescription drugs," Bailey said.
"In most families, there is very easy access to prescription drugs," Reams said. "The kids who use prescription drugs have competitions to see who can get the most and who can raise the most money selling the drugs."
Miller said experts conducted a survey of students and their habits.
"We found kids are starting to use drugs at a younger age," Miller said. "In our survey, students in sixth and 12th grade admitted to the highest use of drugs. I think we need to talk with kids at a younger age and let them know the consequences of drug use before they get started. We need to let them know they don't have to drink and use drugs to have a good time."
Panel members were asked what they would say to others to help them stay "above the influence."
"Never change," Marren said. "Find yourself and don't let anyone change you. And never lose who you are."
"Find your own passion," Miller said. "You will be offered many bad things, but just follow what you love."
"Don't give in to peer pressure," Smith said. "Do something positive like sports."
"It's your choice," Reams said. "You choose where to go from here. Never let anyone else control your life."
National Youth Leadership Initiative coalitions in the three counties, along with director Greg Puckett, partnered with the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy's Above the Influence campaign to organize the local event.
Helping facilitate the event was Benjamin Tucker, deputy director of state, local and tribal affairs for the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Local students from the Girls on Track youth program attended Thursday's presentation.
Contact Beth Christian Broschart by email at email@example.com.