Series looks at drug use within the midstate

Written by Ben Allen, WITF news | Nov 3, 2014 4:43 AM

Pennsylvania hasn't been excluded from the heroin epidemic that’s largely been centered in New England states such as Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

    Take these examples:
  • Deaths from heroin overdoses in York County topped 2013’s total before the halfway point of this year.
  • The police seized more than $100,000 worth of heroin in York in April.
  • A special education teacher was charged with heroin trafficking after a routine traffic stop in Berks County.

But the commonwealth’s drug problems run deeper than heroin. Some young people are drawn to prescription drugs, marijuana and alcohol for a variety of reasons.

Following in the path of WITF’s “Pushed Around” series on bullying, the midstate's public media organization is producing “Real Life | Real Issues: Drugs and Young People.” Some of the stories will air on WITF 89.5 and 93.3, along with discussions on “SmartTalk.”


There are many sides of the issue to be explored. So WITF will be talking with families, victims, school administrators, law enforcement and others on air and online, including a public forum in January 2015 at WITF’s Public Media Center in Swatara Twp. It will also be televised in February.

The project isn't about highlighting a single incident in a single community in a single county in the midstate. Instead, stories and discussions will explore the root causes of drug addiction among young people, and provide the tools necessary for educators, parents and other leaders in the community to identify a person who needs help and develop solutions. It will work to provide the context around the issue and the actionable steps anyone can take to prevent drug addiction among young people.

Take marijuana. Legalization has become something that seems more and more possible. Under heavy regulation, two states now allow businesses to sell the drug to anyone over age 18, and nearly half of the states in the country have legalized its use for medical reasons. But marijuana has often been described as a “gateway” drug by law enforcement. The WITF series will examine the evidence behind that claim and how the drug can alter young minds.

When it comes to alcohol, society often doesn't label it as a drug. But in reality, it is. It alters our minds and can have long-term effects, especially for developing minds. As part of “Real Life | Real Issues: Drugs and Young People,” the underage-drinking problem will be examined in detail, and just like marijuana, stories will examine strategies in dealing with those who use it frequently.

Lately, prescription drugs have been highlighted as a potential problem for curious teenagers, and sometimes proper disposal and storage of drugs can be all that’s needed to eliminate any chance of addiction. However, young people, especially those in high school, can get their hands on painkillers or drugs intended to ease the effects of attention deficit disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Those drugs, like Ritalin, can be used like “performance enhancers” when critical tests are coming up. Because of that, the controlled substances present a unique challenge for parents and leaders in the community. This series will also offer methods specifically developed for combating that issue.

Some schools have started drug testing certain students or giving parents the option to have their children tested. But what can a parent do when those results come back positive? The experts will offer the best way to approach such a situation, because the reaction can be just as critical to starting a young person on the path to recovery.


Many have experienced drugs in some way, whether it’s as a parent dealing with a teen, an educator who has seen the effects firsthand or maybe a coach who has tried to steer their athletes away from drugs. WITF will also be using the Public Insight Network to collect those stories, and more. The network is a way to gather a large number of responses and organize them. If you aren’t yet a participant, it’s free to join, and a monthly email outlining the stories WITF is working on. Find this questionnaire and more like it at

Check out, where a bevy of resources will be available: videos presenting a comprehensive plan in providing counsel to young people addicted to drugs.

The project is being produced in partnership with the Pennsylvania Association of Intermediate Units and Pennsylvania Association of Elementary and Secondary School Principals, and in consultation with the Cumberland-Perry Drug and Alcohol Commission, Gaudenzia and is incorporating the most current best practices. All of the tools will also be available online, for reference.

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