BLOUNT COUNTY, Tenn. — A Blount County organization is working to educate parents about substance misuse and mental health. Be Aware Blount, the county's anti-drug coalition, led the conversation about children's misuse Monday night at the Blount County Public Library.
At the forefront, concern about children and vaping as incidents have increased in the past two years.
Local mental health, law enforcement and juvenile justice experts came together to explain why children misuse substances and how to prevent it. They said it begins with curiosity and wanting to be accepted.
"Prevention is the biggest piece to all of this," said Be Aware Blount grant coordinator Amanda Ingle-Lenski.
Experts are asking parents to step up and pay attention to their children's behavior, which comes during a county-wide initiative to decrease substance abuse. The main substances: vaping, alcohol and marijuana.
"Really hoping to bring to light education for parents whether their children struggle with substance abuse issues or not," said Ingle-Lenski.
During the organization's first town hall meeting, experts revealed that kids are often first exposed to substances in middle school saying they participate out of curiosity and to feel accepted.
To combat misuse, experts said parents need to have more involvement in their child's life and make sure the child feels like they belong in their community. Many unhealthy habits are caused by adverse childhood experiences that impact kids mentally.
"If we can provide our community with the tools to catch this early on, we can really go upstream from some of the issues that present later," said Ingle-Lenski.
Within Maryville City Schools, experts said some 5th and 6th graders are now talking about drugs and alcohol. It's something that used to only be heard from 7th and 8th graders.
"When it comes to substance misuse, we are trying to address the after effects of the opioid crisis here in our region," she said.
They're hoping all parents take the ongoing crisis seriously by educating themselves and talking with their child.
Free Narcan and prescription drug lock boxes were available at the town hall meeting. Organizers said it's important everyone has these tools on hand and in their home.