With the opioid epidemic ravaging the country, the state, and our communities, organizations are finding ways to reach teens in an attempt to keep them off drugs.
One of those ways is to get them to make the pledge to being clean by joining drug-free clubs in exchange for a card that identifies them as such and affords them benefits at dozens of businesses.
In order to get the card, the students have to pass a drug test and potentially future drug tests throughout the year. A total of five drug tests are held for each club yearly, selecting members at random.
If a student fails a test, neither the school nor the club is notified. Instead the parents of the teen are contacted and offered assistance in getting their child some help.
Friday, under an overcast sky and the threat of rain, hundreds of participating Ross County students marched in Chillicothe and rallied on the County Courthouse steps for about an hour.
Nine schools were represented by speakers who addressed the crowd with everything from rallying chants to personal stories about how drugs have devastated their home lives.
After the rally, the students marched to the nearby park where they were treated to lunch and a free concert.
For some seniors participating this year, the event validated their reasons for joining.
“It just makes me feel beyond special, and it just makes us show how much power we have and how we can combine to do great things if we all come together,” said Jaiden Rittinger from Zane Trace High School.
Others were taken aback at another massive turn out this year.
“It’s amazing to me to see that there are so many kids that want to be a part of this,” said Taylor Strickland from Unioto High School.
Strickland says she is lucky to have a positive familial situation right now, and knows some of her classmates don’t enjoy that; and she hates what drugs are doing to her neighbors.
“It’s really sad because I love this community so much and it’s such a tight knit close community and I love so many people in it and just to know that that’s such a problem really heartbreaking,” said Strickland.
One of her classmates knows a thing or two about heartbreak. Chase Smith’s step sister struggles with addiction.
“She just relapsed a couple of weeks ago, which is actually horrible because she has a little girl at home; and they just have to tell her that she’s sick, because we don’t really know where she’s at right now,” said Smith.
For Chase having the impact of drugs so clearly front and center with his family further provides him incentive not to start doing them.
“When someone’s on drugs it’s like it changes what they want. They put drugs over their own daughter; their own family,” said Smith. “I wouldn’t put drugs over anyone.”