Delaware State University on Sept. 26 held the first of what are planned to be several public meetings to discuss averting drug, alcohol and tobacco abuse among youth.

Delaware State University on Sept. 26 held the first of what are planned to be several public meetings to discuss averting drug, alcohol and tobacco abuse among youth.

Approximately 60 people attended the Town Hall-style meeting, titled “An Epidemic in Our Community.”

“This is a prevention activity,” said Dr. Gwendolyn Scott-Jones, associate professor and chair of the school’s psychology department. “We want to heighten awareness and get the community engaged, inside and outside the university.”

The idea is to target children beginning in middle school and warn them about the dangers not just of alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs, but of the improper use of prescription drugs as well, she said.

Statistics show that approximately 8,000 teens in Delaware use illegal drugs every month; of those 7.5 percent smoke marijuana and 5.5 percent used illicit drugs other than marijuana.

A growing problem is the abuse of prescription drugs, legal medications used by persons other than those for whom they were intended, said Senior Cpl. Alfonzo Jones of the Delaware State Police. More than 6,000 adolescents misuse prescription drugs annually, he said.

Jones said education is the key to helping these teens wean themselves off illegal drugs and also to helping others from abusing them in the first place.

“We want to give people the tools, information to talk about so we can make our community and state a little better,” he told the audience.

Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Enforcement agent Aaron T. Bonniwell discussed the division’s Tobacco Cooperating Underage Witness program, which targets businesses that illegally sell to minors.

The program uses teen volunteers who go into stores and try to buy tobacco products, Bonniwell said. The teens, who must have parental permission to take part in the program, are accompanied by plainclothes officers who watch the entire transaction. Clerks face arrest for making illegal tobacco sales and businesses risk their licenses for selling to minors, he said.

A similar program is in place to check alcohol sales, Bonniwell said.

Bonniwell also warned against “scissor,” which involves mixing Sprite soda, a Jolly Rancher candy and cough syrup. This and other “hood” drugs are popular because the ingredients are easily obtainable and legal, he said.

Such mixtures can be just as potent as other illegal drugs, Bonniwell said.

“Now you don’t have to buy from your corner drug dealer anymore,” he said. “Everything’s in your medicine cabinet.”

Because of its location on the East Coast, Delaware is a highway for drug traffickers moving their wares from the New York/Philadelphia area to Washington, D.C., and other large southern cities, Jones said. Dealers move drugs along I-95, or use U.S. Route 13 to bring them into beach resorts or smaller towns.

Marijuana is the most popular illegal drug in the area, although pills such as Ecstasy and Oxycontin also are high on the list of desired illegal drugs. Methamphetamine also is growing in popularity, despite the hazards posed in making it.

Drug dealers use dangerous chemicals to produce meth, ingredients that can explode if not handled properly, Jones said. Experts in explosives and handling hazardous materials must be brought in to dismantle meth labs when discovered by authorities, he said.

“There’s always a reason for people getting involved with drugs and alcohol,” he said.

Ending such abuse – nor never starting – also begins with a decision, Jones said.

There are myriad means of ending the cycle, from school and community counselors to online services. Help also is available through Delaware 211, an online and telephone service that offers counseling and assistance when needed.

Scott-Jones was pleased with the turnout at this first Town Hall session, and said the university plans to expand future meetings.

“We just need to do more before there are casualties and consequences that are irreversible,” Scott-Jones said.