Students and officials learning from each other in midst of drug crisis

By Alex Wiederspiel in News

FAIRMONT, W.Va. — Wheeling Park High School student Luke Knollinger believes students need to take the lead in helping other students avoid drug experimentation.

“Anyone who has been going through the news has definitely seen West Virginia has a serious opioid issue,” Knollinger said. “In particular, our area in the Northern Panhandle.”

Knollinger attended Tuesday’s drug forum at Fairmont State University for West Virginia middle and high school students from the Northern District, which allowed Luke . U.S. Attorney Bill Ihlenfeld said finding solutions at a core level starts with prevention.

“We knew we wanted to focus on young people,” Ihlenfeld said. “We knew we wanted to focus on a prevention message. We thought about trying to bring together young people to hear what they have to say.”

West Virginia has claimed an infamous reputation for drug abuse, and Knollinger wants that to change.

“It is definitely a real live thing–especially because it’s in our back yard,” he said. “It’s in our state. Truly, makes me want to do something about it.”

Ihlenfeld knows that education through social media is the direction that prevention and awareness campaigns are heading. But, he added, he wanted feedback from students who really understand the nuances of the constantly changing social media landscape.

“It’s easy to unfollow someone or to block them on social media,” Ihlenfeld said. “You don’t want to get to the point where the information is oversaturating them. You have to find balance. That’s something they expressed to us.”

One county south of Fairmont State in neighboring Harrison County, a recent spate of fentanyl-related overdoses put area police on high alert. Ihlenfeld said students aren’t really seeing this filter into their schools yet. Rather, most students at the forum talked about marijuana, tobacco, and alcohol.

“Marijuana is a hot topic,” Ihlenfeld said. “That sort of dominated our morning conversation. They wanted to talk about that because it’s in our high schools.”

Ihlenfeld does, however, want them to be on high alert.

“And, fortunately, nobody said they had seen fentanyl or know of anyone who had seen fentanyl within their schools,” he said. “But we wanted to make them aware of it so that they could kind of grasp the concept.”

One of the things Ihlenfeld’s office stressed during the forum was how widespread the drug problem is, but just how different it can be in different regions of the state.

For Luke Knollinger, that was new information.

“It’s not all across the board the same,” Knollinger said. “You can’t just put a blanket over it and call it a day. Each part of the state has their own different issues.”