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Virginia Journal of Education

A Way Out of Addiction

Gloucester County website offers help and hope for young people struggling with substance abuse.

By Tom Allen

It seemed to happen when most of us weren’t looking: Heroin use crept from the streets into our schools, even ones in neighborhoods where many wouldn't ordinarily suspect it. Prescription drugs made the trip, too, entering school hallways from medicine cabinets—again, from homes and families from across all economic, ethnic and racial groups.

While rates of teen drug use are trending downward overall, the use of opioids (controlled prescription drugs, fentanyl and heroin) has "risen to epidemic levels," according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. Its report also goes on to say, "In 2014, 10,574 Americans died from heroin-related overdoses, more than triple the number in 2010."

Largely-rural Gloucester County hasn't been immune from the effects of our changing drug culture, either, and after a conversation with the county's Commonwealth's Attorney one day, Jane Wenner decided to do something to actively tackle the problem. Wenner, the public awareness and outreach coordinator for the county's Emergency Management office, starting picking the brains of substance abuse experts, law enforcement officials and educators, and the result is a website,, designed to be an essential resource reaching well beyond Gloucester's borders.

"When we talked with teachers and school counselors," Wenner says, "they wanted to know about the types of drugs that are out there and some of the things they should be looking for."

Wenner and others began gathering that kind of information and has now launched the "Sink or Swim" program, which offers extensive information on over-the-counter drugs (such as pain relievers, inhalants and alcohol); prescription drugs (such as Adderall, hydrocodone and ketamine); and street drugs (such as marijuana, meth and heroin). There's also information on substances that usually get less focus but are still finding their way into schools, such as bath salts, energy drinks, diet pills and synthetic drugs.

In addition, the site offers personal stories on video from people who either struggled with substance abuse themselves or have a family member who has; a helpline at 1-855-DRUGFREE; an interactive map to help find treatment in your area; information on what's involved in the recovery process; and printed program materials, including some in development that will be tied to Virginia's Standards of Learning., designed by DL Media, has caught the eye of others involved in the battle against youth substance abuse and is now linked to from the state's drug prevention website,

Wenner has seen, firsthand, how prevalent the issue of substance abuse has become. “Just about everyone I’ve talked to has been affected in some way,” she says, one reason she’s made herself available to speak about "Sink or Swim" and substance abuse prevention to school and community groups across the state. Contact her at

Allen is editor of the Virginia Journal of Education.


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