ORLANDO, Fla. - By the time children hit high school, parents know it's possible they could be exposed to, or have tried, some type of drug.
But Local 6 found for some kids, it's happening as soon as elementary school.
According to the 2013-2014 data from the Florida Department of Education, 23 elementary schools across Central Florida reported at least one incident of drug use, sale or possession on campus. These statistics are self-reported by the schools to the state. That number does not include charter schools or alternative learning centers.
Broken down by county, eight of those schools are in Orange County. Lake, Volusia and Brevard counties each had three elementary schools with incidents reported. Osceola, Flagler and Marion counties had two incidents each, while Sumter and Seminole didn't have any incidents in elementary schools.
"The most common one is still marijuana," said Mayeling Angellastro, a registered mental health counselor intern with Total Life Counseling in Orlando.
The districts we heard back from said that's true of most elementary school incidents. However, one reported incident at Treadway Elementary School in Lake County involved prescription pills and at Columbia Elementary School in Brevard County, there was one report of "other controlled substance."
Out of all the districts, Orange County, which is the biggest, tops the list with 460 incidents of drug use or possession and 62 sales. Volusia County follows with 248 use or possession reports with 15 sales. After that, the county numbers are pretty consistent until Sumter and Flagler round out the bottom of the list.
Angellastro said most kids are not using all the time.
"It's usually experimental at that age," said Angellastro. "That's definitely peer pressure. It's around what they're doing at home, or what they're exposed to. Nowadays social media, the Internet, YouTube, they can find this information anywhere."
But they're not just experimenting with marijuana.
Local 6 compared numbers from the 2014 Florida Youth Substance Abuse Survey and nearly 17 percent of students in middle schools said they've tried an illicit drug. That includes 7.9 percent smoking marijuana, 8.1 percent trying inhalants and 3.9 percent taking prescription pain relievers.
By the time they reach high school, 9.9 percent said they've tried synthetic marijuana - known sometimes as K2. Nearly 33 percent have tried smoking marijuana, and 8.2 percent are taking prescription pain relievers.
There's also statistics for everything from heroin to methamphetamine, including, but not limited to LSD, cocaine and ecstasy.
Angellastro said most of the time, if things have gotten that far, it's often a big cry for help.
"It could be because your child is having trouble dealing with something emotionally," said Angellastro. "The chronic users usually are the ones who have poor coping skills and they have something that they need to self-medicate. That's when you tend to see a problem, when there's something going on either on at home or in their personal lives."
She said parents should be looking for things like shutting down, sudden mood shifts, and out-of-control anger, above and beyond normal teenager angst.
"A lot of excessive use of eye drops would probably be if they're trying to mask something," said Angellastro. "Too much cologne, too much perfume, chewing gum all the time. They're trying to hide their breath, trying to hide the smell, so things like that."
If you think we couldn't be talking about your child, think again.
When asked, only 62.2 percent of high schoolers thought smoking marijuana was wrong, while 93.6 percent felt that way about other drugs. When asked about thoughts on trying marijuana once or twice, 36.4 percent of middle school students felt it would be harmful, while only 16.1 percent of high school students agreed.
"Never think this cannot happen to me," said Angellastro. "Always think there's a possibility, so you could be more aware of the problem or possible problems."
But she said even if it does happen to you, there's always hope.
"It does not mean they're a bad kid, although the child or teen would probably think they're a bad kid, because they are ultimately doing something that's bad. But the behavior does not define the person," Angellastro said.
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