PENNINGTON GAP, Va. - Communities across southwest Virginia are constantly looking for ways to cut down on the epidemic proportion of drug abuse and addiction. In Pennington Gap alone, the police chief tells us they have taken more than 40 reports of stolen medications since January and had four drug-related arrests this month.
Police there believe breaking the cycle may start with young students and reinstating a popular drug-prevention program.
Joel Duncan serves as the school resource officer for Pennington Middle School in Lee County, and now he is bringing back the D.A.R.E. program many may recognize from childhood.
"It's not just about drugs anymore. It's about how to deal with stressful situations, bullies, conflict resolution, effective communication," Duncan said.
Officers tell us the program has not been taught in that school in more than a decade, but Duncan just completed the two-week training to reinstate the program. He has now been teaching the curriculum this semester, which he says has been updated to meet the needs of today's students.
Duncan said, "Some of these kids might not have the coping skills or effective communication skills that they encounter in every day life, not just here in school, but out in society."
News 5 learned the program is taught to around 130 seventh graders each week. Principal Sherry Collier tells us many students and families across the region are impacted by drug abuse and teaching resistance early can have a strong impact.
"If they become accustomed to this drug abuse prevention and ways to handle that early in the middle school years, then that can make a difference in our communities, not just in our schools," Collier said.
We have learned this is one of a couple of drug prevention programs for students in Lee County. The sheriff's department also teaches a DANGER program to fifth graders. Sheriff Gary Parsons said they adopted the curriculum to specifically address the needs in their communities, which include drug prevention and anger management.