Youth drug, alcohol abuse increasing in Utah County

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    By Emma Barrett

    Drugs and alcohol are a growing problem among Utah County youth, said Judy Wright, probation supervisor for the Fourth District Juvenile Court.

    On Monday, Orem police arrested a 17-year-old Provo boy for possession of marijuana.

    Lt. Doug Edwards of the Orem Police Department said the boy was pulled over by Officer Garrett Smit for an equipment violation.

    When the boy reached into his glovebox to pull out his registration, three packets of marijuana fell out, Edwards said.

    According to the “plain view doctrine,” police officers can seize illegal substances that are in plain view in areas where the officers have a legal right to be, Edwards said.

    Edwards said the boy tried to hide the marijuana, but Officer Smit saw it and arrested him.

    Wright said the Fourth District Juvenile Court saw 6,238 juvenile offenders in 1999.

    “24 percent of the kids who came in had a drug or alcohol charge,” Wright said.

    Although she did not have specific statistics, Wright said her impression is that drug and alcohol use is rising among juveniles in Utah County.

    However, Wright said the county has a strict, effective program to rehabilitate juvenile drug offenders.

    “The juvenile court has developed four drug courts just for kids,” Wright said.

    Juveniles referred to these drug courts are sent to counseling, submitted to weekly random drug tests, meet with a judge once a week and cannot miss school, she said.

    “A lot of kids think they’ll walk in and nothing will happen,” Wright said. “That is just not true.”

    Wright said first-time offenders who come into juvenile court go through a two-hour interview and assessment to determine whether or not they need counseling.

    Those who need counseling are then referred to one of the drug courts, she said.

    Wright said the drug court process requires a large commitment from youth and parents but can be very rewarding.

    “People you never would have guessed have gotten their acts together,” she said.

    Chanin Johnson, a probation officer with the Fourth District Juvenile Court, said she believes the program has been very effective.

    She said other programs would be more effective for juveniles who combine drug charges with other types of criminal charges.

    Johnson said she has personally seen positive changes in youth that go through the drug court program.

    “It’s not a catch-all; it’s not a cure-all, but there is no such thing,” Johnson said.

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