Florida was one of several states last year to declare a state of emergency because of opioid abuse. But despite efforts by state and federal officials, some local teens don't feel like enough is being done to help students.
In the past year, laws were passed, task forces were created and doctors were ordered to use the prescription drug monitoring program - all steps geared toward preventing more opioid abuse.
But 17-year-old Annabelle Dorff - an Anclote High school student and one of four teenagers on a panel hosted by the Pasco County Alliance for Substance Abuse Prevention Tuesday – said many of these efforts, including drug-free programs at schools, are falling flat when it comes to youth.
"They'll come up and they'll be like 'drugs is bad, don't do drugs' and they'll hand out free pencils and that doesn't really help anything. What about the kids who are already doing drugs? What about the kids, whose parents are already doped up and addicted to all these things?" Dorff asked.
Dorff said her parents were alcoholics and drugs addicts, and while she didn’t fall into addiction herself despite being passed around in the foster system, her experiences were part of what led her to attempt suicide last year.
And when teachers file reports and law enforcement officers come knocking on the door, Dorff said children with drug-addicted family members threaten them to keep quiet.
Mia Causey, a 17 year old at Fellowship Baptist academy in New Port Richey, is a recovering opioid addict herself. She said her mother was using drugs throughout her pregnancy, and Causey herself nearly died as an infant from “failure to thrive.”
“I had it in the back of mind thinking, ‘that’s just me, that’s how it’s going to be,’” Causey said. She’s been sober for a year.
Arriana Santillana, 16, is a Fivay High school student and president of the West Pasco Safe Teens AgaiNst Drugs (STAND) program. She'd like to see a 12-step program in Pasco schools.
But she says adults fear it will encourage more teens to experiment with drugs if they have a safety net to recovery later.
“I think you shouldn't worry about more people starting,” Santillana said. “You should worry about the people who already started. There are so many things already for prevention - and that's great - but you have to help the people who already started when the prevention thing wasn't around.”
The teens also say that it can take weeks to get appointments with school guidance counselors and social workers.
They suggested more funding for school counselors and social workers, and regular programs throughout the school year to de-stigmatize talking about drug abuse and mental health.
Call for help: The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is staffed around the clock: 1-800-273-8255.
Go online: The website includes warning signs and local crisis centers: www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org