Parkway hosts town hall meetings to address heroin crisis


Courtesy of Alliance for Healthy Communities

A photo illustration promoting Alliance for Healthy Communities town hall meetings across Parkway high schools.

Student drug abuse has been a well-documented issue across high school campuses nationwide as Parkway employs various tactics to discourage drug consumption. The district’s latest attempt to curtail growing use of heroin and opioids is highlighted by a series of town hall meetings.

Director of the Alliance for Healthy Communities Ken McManus was the keynote speaker at town halls hosted by West and Central High March 21 and April 26, respectively. Both parties worked in conjunction with St. Louis County Councilman Mark Harder to coordinate the events.

“Turnout is rarely as abundant as we would like, and in this case, we had approximately 80 people in attendance,” McManus said. “From the feedback we received in program evaluations, attendees reported high levels of satisfaction in their experience of the program. My personal hope is that people continued to think seriously about program content well after it was over and that in-home and community behaviors will change.”

Counselor Jen Wibbenmeyer, who began working at West in 2008, believes drug use has trended upward in recent years. She pins a share of the blame on the disconnect between the message within school walls and the message delivered at home.

“I think the town halls are good for informing parents. I don’t think parents are always aware of just how prevalent it is,” Wibbenmeyer said. “Making them aware so that they can continue the discussions at home, it really needs to be a home-school partnership communicating the same message to students. I think educating parents is a good step through these town halls and nightly events.”

The daily death toll due to opioid-related drug overdoses rose to 116 in 2016, an alarming figure that has prompted administrators, parents and students to focus on reversing the coercive culture of peer pressure.

Courtesy of Ken McManus
A “Call to Action” flier given to attendees of town hall meetings conducted by the Alliance for Healthy Communities.

“With drugs and alcohol, reminding kids that if they don’t choose to do that, they’re not alone in that choice,” sophomore High School Hero Kelsey Long said. “There are more kids than you would think that don’t [avoid drugs and alcohol] because a lot of people go into it by peer pressure. [We should] remind kids that you aren’t completely alone and you won’t lose all of your friends if you don’t choose to do drugs or alcohol.”

These town hall meetings may spark discussions that raises community awareness about drug abuse, but the Alliance for Healthy Communities also emphasizes the importance of responsible medication management, storage and disposal.

“While we worked to present many messages in the course of the program, one overarching message is that effectively fighting the epidemic requires long-term commitment to changing cultural beliefs about pain and pain management,” McManus said. “Americans use over 90 percent of the opioid medications on the planet. Our messages include urging people to consciously manage medications.”

Reform aiming to reduce student heroin and opioids usage may not be limited to the consumers of such drugs. Wibbenmeyer advocates for further protection of those who observe drug-related activity.

“I personally think we need to take a harder line with offenders of the problem. I think there is that mentality that ‘snitches get stitches’ if you rat people out,” Wibbenmeyer said. “I think if we had something in place, whether it’s a hotline or a dropbox where people could anonymously report what’s going on, I think that would help because it’s that identification piece, they’re worried that they’re going to be accused of being the snitch.”

The popularity of town hall meetings has increased as school districts including Pattonville, Hazelwood, Mehlville and Rockwood adopt similarly-styled events. McManus is optimistic the joined efforts of various community presences can help to bring about a viable solution to rampant overdoses.

“Two things stand out for me in the context of this current epidemic,” McManus said. “The continually increasing number and socio-economic diversity of deaths from overdose and the extent to which separate community sectors, law enforcement, educators, first responders and civic leaders are uniting in their efforts to impact this national and regional nightmare.”