Columbia Town Hall tonight to discuss teens' drug use

Columbia Town Hall tonight to discuss teens' drug use
Joan Scornaienchi, executive director of HC DrugFree, works in her Columbia office as she prepares for the Sept. 24 Town Hall Meeting in the Jim Rouse Theatre at Wilde Lake High School. (Photo by Noah Scialom, Patuxent Publishing)

Whether it's alcohol, marijuana, heroin, prescription medication or newer, synthetic substances like K2, it's easy for teenagers to access drugs in Howard County.

At least, that's what dozens of high school students have told Joan Webb Scornaienchi, executive director of HC DrugFree, a nonprofit organization that works to prevent substance abuse among the county's youth.


"They say, 'I can get anything I want, anytime I want,' " Scornaienchi said.

And sometimes, both knowingly and unknowingly, their parents are the suppliers, she said.

That's why on Tuesday, Sept. 24, Scornaienchi, along with U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, whose 7th Congressional District includes parts of Howard County, Del. Liz Bobo, Howard County Police Chief Bill McMahon and several other local leaders will participate in HC DrugFree's Town Hall Meeting at Wilde Lake High School's Jim Rouse Theatre.

The meeting, which begins at 7 p.m., will include discussions about the state of teen drug use in Howard County, adults who provide drugs and alcohol to teens, and ways parents can educate and empower their children to avoid substance abuse.

Nationwide, studies show teenage abuse of both prescription medication and marijuana are up.

In 2012, 6.5 percent of eighth-graders, 17 percent of 10th-graders and 22.9 percent of 12th-graders reported using marijuana in the past month, according to Monitoring the Future, an annual, nationwide survey of students funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. That's up from 5.7 percent of eighth-graders, 14.2 percent of 10th-graders and 18.8 percent of 12th-graders in 2007.

The survey also found that 14.8 percent of high school seniors said they used a prescription drug nonmedically in the past year. The most commonly abused prescription drugs by teens were Adderall, a stimulant sometimes used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and Vicodin, a painkiller that contains acetaminophen and hydrocodone. Often, teens pull these medications from the family medicine cabinet.

And despite historically low levels nationwide, alcohol abuse remains a problem among teens. According to the Monitoring the Future survey, 28.1 percent of 12th-graders nationwide reported getting drunk in the past month.

In Howard County, Scornaienchi said teens use all of these drugs and more. While the drug of choice may vary, reasons behind the use are surprisingly the same, she said.

During the 2012-2013 school year, HC DrugFree held 11 youth focus groups with high school students from throughout the county. When asked why students use drugs, the groups resoundingly gave the same answer: to feel numb.

"It was scary," Scornaienchi said. "It was as if the kids called each other (beforehand)."

Reasons for wanting to feel numb included academic, sexual and social pressures, she said.

"Even at 14, they feel like they are supposed to know who they are going to be, what career they are going to have," Scornaienchi said. "If they don't, they feel like they are behind the other kids."

During the town hall meeting, Scornaienchi will discuss teens' reasons for using, trends in drug abuse and prevention techniques, while McMahon will discuss the dangers of substance abuse and the effect it can have on decision making.


"Poor decision making can translate into many different areas," he said, "Drunk driving, sexual assaults, physical assaults, sexual activity."

McMahon also will discuss parents who are providing or condoning the very substances that are being abused. In Maryland, adults found guilty of buying or providing alcohol to minors could face a maximum fine of $2,500 per minor. Still, county police officers find house parties where parents have either provided alcohol or are home while teens are drinking, McMahon said.

"They make the argument that 'It's only alcohol' or, 'If they're here, I know they're safe,' " he said. "I think parents who take that position are abdicating their responsibility as parents."

Jayne Kaiser, a Wilde Lake High School parent and HC DrugFree PTSA representative, recalled one parent asking her, "Wouldn't you rather (your child) have a glass of wine with you now and learn how to handle it?"

"If you allow the child to break the law in your home, they're going to do it outside the home," Kaiser said. "Parents are naive to think, 'If they do it at my house, they won't do it at a party.' "

Overall, parents need to become more open, educated and honest when it comes to substance abuse, Scornaienchi said. This town hall meeting will give them that chance, she said.

"It's bigger than drugs and alcohol," Scornaienchi said. "It's about keeping our children safe … If the adults in this community who truly care about keeping our children safe came together, we could make some serious changes."

The HC DrugFree Town Hall Meeting begins at 7 p.m. in the Jim Rouse Theatre at Wilde Lake High School and is open to the public. For more information, go to or call 443-325-0040.