Most parents would never look at their child and say, ‘I can’t wait to mess you up.’
Instead, it’s often ‘I want better for you than I ever had,’ said Ardmore Behavioral Health Collaborative Director Ashely Godwin.
However, within the last couple of years, Oklahoma has ranked in the bottom 10 states in the nation for child well-being and has been among the states with the highest recorded juvenile drug-related arrests.
A report conducted by Greenhouse Treatment, a rehabilitation facility, discovered that out of 8,750 arrests made of individuals under the age of 18, 1,280 were linked to drugs. And an additional report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation showed that Oklahoma ranked 45th in education and 43rd in health.
Arbuckle Life Solutions is the only outpatient service in Ardmore to offer substance abuse counseling for individuals under 18. Director Kevin Bone said the most common drug he has seen youth struggling with in the community is marijuana, in addition to alcohol use.
With the passage of new legislation in recent years, Bone said youth now have more access to marijuana, and it’s not all specifically for medical use.
“Especially now that marijuana’s legalized for medical reasons, we are seeing kids that are getting medical marijuana cards,” Bone said. “We are seeing kids that are trying to go that way to get that and I don’t know how we address that because that’s all new.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, marijuana use at an early age can have permanent effects on the developing brain, especially with regular or heavy use. Early-onset use of any drug can cause individuals to develop a higher dependence on it later on in life, Bone said.
Marijuana also remains the most common drug youth are arrested for in Ardmore, according to data from the Ardmore Police Department. Between January and May 2019, there were seven recorded juvenile arrests for possession of marijuana and two arrests pertaining to other drugs. In 2018, the ratio was 13 to three and in 2017, it was 12 to two.
“When I see the numbers of our juvenile incarceration rates and our juvenile drug use, to me it goes back to the idea of childhood trauma — of parents not really knowing that the things that are happening in their homes are effecting their children long term,” Godwin said.
Experiencing childhood trauma is relatively common, Godwin said. There is a lot of existing trauma within the community, she said, which is often perpetuated by a cycle in which parents who have grown up in that kind of environment “revert back to what they know when life happens.”
Substance abuse and drug use is just one of the coping mechanisms for individuals who have experienced or are experiencing trauma, Godwin said.
“People do the best with what they have and when we don’t know how to reach out or to get other help, we learn how to cope with the issues that we’re having however we can,” Godwin said.
This generation of youth is also the most isolated there has ever been, she said, leading to boredom, depression, and other mental health issues.
“Kids just don’t have the same kinds of social skills,” Godwin said. “It takes a lot for them to even be able to relate to one another. So that adds another layer to ‘I need some way to cope with how I’m feeling.’”
Part of what Godwin does at the Ardmore Behavioral Wellness Collaboration is an assessment of the types of mental health programming available in the community and the programs needed.
Although there are many nonprofit organizations in Ardmore, there remains a huge gap in substance abuse services for youth, she said.
Bone said Arbuckle Life Solutions began Ardmore’s only youth substance abuse counseling program within the past year. After receiving a grant for the program, the organization began offering services where youth are assessed and provided with a treatment plan at no cost.
However, Bone said there have been obstacles to reaching individuals under 18. One way Bone said the organization is trying to cure this is by providing counseling services at schools.
“We’re trying different things to reach the youth,” Bone said. “There’s challenges with them because they’re just hard to reach sometimes because they don’t have transportation a lot of times — so that’s why we’re trying to go meet them where they’re at in the school.”
This past school semester Bone said Arbuckle Life Solutions piloted a school counseling program and Godwin said they are hoping to implement programs for children who have been through trauma in Dickson Middle School and Lone Grove Primary School by next semester.
“That’s where it all starts with addiction,” Bone said. “A lot of times it’s those early teen years and if we can plant some seeds at that time just to get them to think a little differently about alcohol and drug use, maybe that’ll deter them from continuing their use.”
To schedule an appointment with Arbuckle Life Solutions concerning the under-18 counseling services, call 580-226-1656 or visit www.arbucklelifesolutions.com