Lee County district attorney tackling student drug impairment

LEE COUNTY, AL (WTVM) -  Startling statistics are calling for educators and school resource officers to become more educated on drug abuse.

In East Alabama, authorities say they are working to help students who might be caught in a dangerous lifestyle before its too late.

Lee County District Attorney Brandon Hughes says this is one of the biggest topics he wants to tackle in his administration – addressing drug use by students so they don't harm themselves or someone else.

"You can huff one time, the first time and die. It doesn't take much and that's what worries me the most," says Hughes.

The "DITEP" or Drug Impairment Training for Educational Professionals is something  Hughes brought to the state in 2008. Today, educators from Auburn, Opelika, and Lee County Schools along with resource officers are trying to get a better idea of how to identify a student impaired by drugs and how they can help.

"We are seeing more and more of our students that are under the influence of something," says Auburn High Principal Dr. Shannon Pignato. "The potency of the products they are trying is what scares me."

Authorities say alcohol-related accidents have decreased, however, highway fatality rates remain consistent. Officials say the younger generation is switching from alcohol to drugs as their choice and the drugs law enforcement are seeing are claimed to be more potent than ever before.

Thirty-eight percent of high school seniors have used an illicit drug. That's a lot of people," said DITEP Instructor Eric Sweden. "The access to drugs now is easier than generations before us."

According to the DITEP course,  52 million Americans 12 and older reported using prescription drugs outside intended use.

Educators and authorities believe mental health goes hand in hand with drug abuse and they are hoping what they learn from this course will help protect the students across Auburn, Opelika, and Lee County.

"We are looking for ways to help them be more successful not just in high school, but life after high school where ever that might take them," says Pignato.

"This is a commitment I made and we are willing to keep doing it as long as people are willing to hear it," says Hughes.

The Lee County D.A. says in the coming years, he will continue to work with educators in the area to help students and take drugs off the street.

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