Lawmakers: Lack of drug data hurts Montgomery prevention efforts

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Photo - Prescription drugs (ThinkStock photo)
Prescription drugs (ThinkStock photo)
Local,Maryland,Crime,Kate Jacobson

Montgomery County lawmakers are concerned about the lack of data on teen drug habits as they try to combat a rising drug problem.

Limited data makes it difficult for county officials to determine whether drug prevention programs are working in the schools, and whether drug use is on the rise, they said Thursday.

Chrisandra Richardson, associate superintendent in the Office of Special Education and Student Services, said the biggest challenge for Montgomery County Public Schools is finding reliable student data, since most is self-reporting by students. And because federal laws limit the ability of schools to share medical and personal student data, it can be hard for schools to offer comparisons to each another, she said.

County Council members at a committee hearing expressed concern over the lack of reliable data, asking school officials how they are able to evaluate the problem.

"How do we know what is working?" asked Councilwoman Valerie Ervin, D-Silver Spring. "How do we know our money is well-spent? It's just empty noise if we don't know whether it's having an effect."

School officials are trying to create a system to share data with each another and to form ways to evaluate trends, such as if student suspensions correlate with drug surveys, Richardson said.

School officials met with County Council members Thursday to discuss drug prevention efforts after county officials learned about a rising drug problem in parts of the county. Police, parents and school officials warned lawmakers of an increased number of arrests in connection to drugs, as well as more students dying as a result of drug use.

"If we took a snapshot in time, what does it look like?" Ervin said Thursday. "I know you're doing great things in the curriculum -- we believe you -- but in the meantime, we have these issues that Council member [Nancy] Navarro spoke to earlier about what it is really like for students in our school systems and how we are dealing with this issue now."

Navarro said she was concerned about schools using outdated information to educate students about drugs. After having conversations with two of her high school interns, she said she is concerned students aren't being properly educated about substances being shown to them in popular culture.

Richardson said she agreed, adding they're working with various organizations to improve drug education.

School officials are trying to create online databases for teachers to access up-to-date drug statistics and teaching materials that are relevant to students. Teachers would be able to grade the effectiveness of certain lessons and data and share resources.

Councilman Craig Rice, D-Germantown, said he learned much about substance abuse and new types of drugs from seminars given at Damascus High School and was surprised at how much he didn't know.

"How do we accurately prepare our kids to make decisions if we don't have relevant information and the parents don't have information, as well?" he asked.

kjacobson@washingtonexaminer.com

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