Montgomery County Faces Teen Substance Abuse at 'Epidemic' Proportions

Teen substance abuse now is similar to the problems of 1993, when authorities were called to action to combat teen drinking and driving, police said.


A year ago this week Montgomery County was rocked by the loss of three Magruder High School students killed in a drunk driving accident. Now, activists say, it’s time for the community to wake up. 

The Montgomery County Council of PTAs hosted a , gathering police, community leaders, parents, teachers and students to discuss a growing substance and alcohol abuse problem in Montgomery County.

“We are far too overrepresentive of drug and alcohol related tragedies. The number one cause of death continues to be alcohol related crashes and teen driving crashes,” said Captain Thomas Didone, director of the Montgomery County Police Traffic Division. “The summary of what’s going on with underage drinking – we’ve returned back to the epidemic proportions of 1993.”

According to Didone, in 1993 MCPD began its efforts to curb teen drinking when three teens were killed in a car accident along River Road. Eighteen years later a similar tragedy mirrored the loss, when .

“Police are not going to arrest their way to a solution, the schools are not going to suspend their way to a solution, elected officials are not going to legislate their way to a solution,” said Montgomery County School Board Member Mike Durso. “It really is only when all of us get together…. When we all own this problem.”

As the panelists of school resource officers, school principals and those with personal knowledge of substance abuse tragedy shared their stories, each urged parents to take charge and to not be afraid of challenging students and children to keep them safe.

Greg Lannes lost his daughter Alicia to heroine abuse when she was 19 years old, in part of what federal authorities discovered was a heroine ring ravaging the young population of Fairfax County, Va.

“All teenagers, all young people go through different battles, whether it’s depression or a bad week at school. The perception of a young mind goes through difficult times,” Lannes said. “It’s a perfect storm out there for tragedies to happen.”

Lannes came with two other representatives of a program that grew out of the Fairfax investigations called PROTECT – Parents Reaching Out to Educate Communities Together. 

“Trust your instincts. God gave you instincts to be a parent,” Greg Richter of Fairfax County told the audience. Richter told his story as a parent of a 24-year-old heroin addict, who was caught up in the Fairfax federal drug investigation and survived multiple rounds of therapy and recovery.

After hitting rock-bottom, Richter said his daughter is still alive and she’s accepted responsibility for her actions. “If you think something’s going on, chances are they are," he said. “If you feel that your child is dabbling with doing drugs, don’t feel you’re a failure if they’re doing it, you’re only a failure if you don’t act on it.”

According to Didone and other panelists, parents are modeling behaviors for children and contributing to the drinking problem by hosting and by ignoring the signs of abuse they later admit to seeing after an accident has taken place.

“You hear about parents modeling behavior. I know it’s the case in driving. Why are these kids driving the way they do? Because they see their parents doing it – cussing, yelling, talking on the cell phone, and that’s what’s happening with alcohol,” Didone said. “We are growing alcoholics at an early age.”

Students, parents and activists stood up after the presentation ended to ask questions and voice opinions. The meeting, scheduled for two hours, didn’t wrap up for almost three. 

Brady Noble, 15, a student at Wootton High School echoed many of the thoughts that had passed through the panel about why kids drink and what the consequences are.

“[Students] feel that it makes them popular. Some kids feel like they’re invincible,” he said. “They say ‘It can’t happen to me,’ but people don’t understand that it actually can happen.”


What do you think the solution is? How can Montgomery County best combat teen drinking and substance abuse?

jnrentz1 May 22, 2012 at 12:48 PM
Mr. Thomas, I did read what you said, and I did respond.
ilkunta May 23, 2012 at 06:04 PM
susan: at 18 one goes to war, but can't have a drink to settle their nerves from what they have encountered? that is bs. legal drinking age should be lowered. in europe they smoke & drink at 18 and you see how it isnt a big deal. having it be restricted makes it a thril and makes kids go after it more.
ilkunta May 23, 2012 at 06:06 PM
jnrentz, didone loosing his son in an auto crash should make him open his eyes. be realistic in his approach. busting underage parties isnt the way. advocating for drinking responsibly IS. have the parties supervised and then make sure the teen who is driving home wasnt drinking to start.
jnrentz1 May 23, 2012 at 09:13 PM
lilkunta: I agree that if one is 18, one should be a "full adult" in every sense of the word, and that should include the privilege of purchasing alcoholic beverages. However, I disagree with your viewpoint on underage drinking parties. The law restricting those who have reached 18, 19, and 20 needs to be changed. Good luck in your efforts, you will be taking on Mother's Against Drunk Driving among others. Until then the law should be enforced. And I am sure Captain Didone's eyes have been opened, and in about the worst way possible. No parent should lose their child.
ilkunta May 24, 2012 at 02:00 AM
you say this "parties. The law restricting those who have reached 18, 19, and 20 needs to be changed" and then say this "Good luck in your efforts, you will be taking on Mother's Against Drunk Driving among others" what do you mean? I'm not starting a revolution. Honestly those 18 19 20 need to do it as it would have more meaning and power. With twitter /facebook it should be easier than ever for them to start a rally/revolution. Jsut bc didone's son died doesnt mean his eyes are open. he may be on a crusade but that doesnt mean his eyes are open. In Europe youth drink and smoke as teens, no law against it & they dont over do it since they drink with parents/relatives/family/friends responsibly bc it isnt illegal.


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