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Expect more youth drug use when schools reopen, experts warn

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As school districts prepare for a full reopening this fall, substance abuse counselors are anticipating a rise in youth drug use.

Leah Hill with UR Medicine Strong Recovery's Adolescent and Young Adult Clinic, said drug abuse in younger adults declined during the COVID-19 pandemic. She explained that the shutdown forced kids to stay home, which limited their access to dealers.

She said she fears that the return of in-person learning will make drugs more accessible.

“Fortunately, we all get to kind of get back to real life, but the movement of substances is also coming back to life,” Hill said. “Some of the younger kids are moving substances through the school.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 60% of students have reported trying alcohol by 12th grade and about 50% of high schoolers have reported ever having used marijuana. About 20% of 12th graders have reported using prescription medicine that wasn't theirs. 

“It's the nature of that dynamic and the culture,” Hill said. “It's not unusual for teens.” 

She said parents need to pay attention to changes in their kids' behavior if they suspect drugs or alcohol usage. These changes may include poor academic performance, increased secrecy, and a change in friendships.

Strong Recovery will host a panel discussion on Wednesday to provide more information and resources to youths and parents affected by substance abuse. This hour long virtual event will take place at noon and will feature medical and mental health experts as guest speakers.

“Active substance use in a family, it ripples out, and affects everyone around the individual. The more beautiful piece of that, though, is that so does recovery,” Hill said.

To register for the discussion, go to

Racquel Stephen is a health and environment reporter. She holds a bachelor's degree in English literature from the University of Rochester and a master's degree in broadcasting and digital journalism from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.