Underage substance abuse in Lincoln County

By Danielle Nason


One in every 12 adults suffers from alcohol abuse or dependence along with several million more who engage in risky, binge drinking patterns that could lead to alcohol problems, according to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.

If that doesn’t shock you, think about this; according to the majority of statistics, Children learn by observing and watching the behaviors of those around them, and statistically; They repeat and act out what they see, in their future.

“We do have a growing number of students who are being raised in homes where substance abuse is prevalent. I think our law enforcement and social services would back that up, because they deal with it on the front lines. We work through the impacts of it (substance abuse) on the child at school. Often what we see is by the time the child reaches middle to high school age they are following the pattern they see in their homes,” said Craig Barringer, Superintendent of Libby’s Schools.

“More than 67% of young people who start drinking before the age of 15 will try an illicit drug. Compared to children who never drink, children who drink are 7.5 times more likely to use any illicit drug, more than 22 times more likely to use marijuana, and 50 times more likely to use cocaine,” said the Lincoln County Health Department News.

According to a 2018 survey taken by respondents from 26 different community organizations across Libby, Troy and Eureka; 52 percent of the surveyed parties were abusing substances or recovering from substances. However, this is not just an issue with adults; underage use of illegal substances has skyrocketed over the last few years according to recent studies.

“I think we have more of a parent ‘hosting’ problem. I believe that with every fiber of my being. I don’t think most kids would choose to drink if parents weren’t always right there offering it up,” said Courtney Leighty of Libby.

Back in the 1990’s in Libby we didn’t worry a whole lot about kids doing drugs or drinking alcohol daily. Kids were likely disciplined after being caught with beer or making a mud bog pit in someone‘s backyard after school, maybe even stealing Chapstick or candy from the Ben Franklin. Today there is serious worry among parents and our City’s finest officers that underage use of illegal substances has become not just a problem, but an epidemic.

“We do see a big increase in vaping by our students, particularly students’ middle school and high school aged. It is easy to get and challenging for schools to catch students in the act,” said Barringer.

Vaping, e-cigarettes, Hookah pens and PV’s are just a few names that people use for electronic smoking. They all use a battery to heat up a liquid. The vapor from the heated liquid is then inhaled. The nicotine liquids come in a wide variety of favors and nicotine levels. The inhaled vapor is made from a combination of tiny particles and many different chemicals, not water vapor as is commonly believed. The problem that parents and teachers alike face is that electronic smoking devices don’t always look like cigarettes. There is no longer a telltale smell of traditional smoke, and to top it off, you can find some e-cigarettes that look like metallic pens, flashlights, bracelets, necklaces and even USB devices.

“Vaping is the biggest issue that we are facing today with underage kids, its become an epidemic,” said Police Chief Kessel. “Cigarettes aren’t cool anymore, and vaping is among the kids.”

An alarming fact about vapes and liquid nicotine products is that they are poisonous when swallowed or absorbed through the skin. Every year, hundreds of children are poisoned by liquid nicotine. Not only are they dangerous to your child’s health, but people have been seriously injured by explosions or vaping devices.

E-cigarettes are becoming increasingly popular among teens throughout the United States and underage children, according to the Center for Tobacco Products.

Research shows that vaping delivers nicotine to the brain in as little as ten seconds. A teenager’s brain is still developing, which makes them more vulnerable to nicotine addiction than adults. Nicotine use can disrupt normal teen development and can have long-lasting effects such as mood disorders and increased impulsivity.

Of course, there is always the age-old problem of an adult supplying alcohol to a minor. Just recently, a Troy woman was turned in to the Sheriff’s Office for supplying alcohol to minors at a birthday party. In several photos circulated on Facebook, one of the boys at the party was holding a beer. The case is currently under investigation.

“An underage person holding the beer can is not breaking the law unless they are caught consuming the beer,” said  Officer Griffeth.

That makes you think, what is legal and what is illegal regarding underage alcohol consumption? How do you know when to reach out for help from the officers who are there to protect and serve, and when should you reach out to a school or parent instead?

“We try to do whatever works for the greatest good. Sometimes helping people means arresting them, other times it means being a guidance counselor or a supportive person in the community,” said Chief Kessel when asked about consequences of an underage person being caught with an illegal substance. “Usually the school will call and turn kids in and then the Police react to those reports. They (the school) take care of a lot in-house and they are getting better at a zero-tolerance atmosphere,” he said.

According to Montana law, anyone under age 21 can possess or consume a non-intoxicating quantity of alcohol when it is;  Provided by the minor’s parent or guardian in a private location such as a home, and not any public place where alcohol is sold; Medicinal purposes as administered by a physician or dentist; Distributed by a licensed pharmacist after a physician’s prescription; Or when used by an ordained minister or priest in accordance with a religious service.

Montana law goes on to note that a non-intoxicating quantity means that there is no visible mental or physical impairment or intoxication to the minor, or a blood alcohol content (BAC) of no higher than 0.05, which is the equivalent to less than half a beer.

If you are supplying alcohol to a minor or know of anyone who is doing so, outside of our State law’s guideline, it is illegal.

Most Montana parents (74%) agree that parents should not let their high school age children drink alcohol at home, according to ParentingMontana.org. Also, (91%) of Montana’s parents disapprove of high school students drinking alcohol at all.

And let’s not forget Medical Marijuana, which is projected to be legalized and made recreational within the next three to five years. The product itself is not the issue as much as the rising availability of marijuana. As it becomes more legalized and readily available, it becomes easier for underage kids acquire.

“Marijuana has been around forever, but it has changed dramatically since when you or I were kids. It has increased in potency and in the variety of different strains over the years.