NewsWest 9 Special Report: West Texas Teens in a Mental Health Battle

By: Sarah Snyder
NewsWest 9

They say 'It's a different world.' Kids tell us, the picture-esque images of junior high and high school are only on the surface, and the source of the latest battleground may be sitting, right inside your medicine cabinet. NewsWest 9 sat down with a West Texas teen who explains, what the temptations are, and what it's like on campus each day.

"There's such a big pressure on kids when they come into school to feel accepted," 19-year-old, Matt Davis, who struggled with substance abuse, said.

That pressure was too much for Matt, a 19-year-old West Texan, who found himself living a life he could never have imagined. 
"It just got out of control because not only was I using drugs, but I was selling drugs," Davis said.

It's a cycle, he says, started in high school.

"Peer pressure is a bigger factor than most people realize," Davis said. "It's hard. Sometimes younger people are pushed to drugs because they can't fill that hole, that need to feel accepted."

Matt's story is one of thousands that plays out every day.

"Unfortunately as parents sometimes we don't do a good job of disposing of pain medication after surgery or a toothache," Child Psychiatrist, Dr. Roddy Strobel, said. "It's in the cabinets and it's readily available on the street."

NewsWest 9 sat down with Midland's behavioral hospital to find out what problems they're finding in West Texas teens.

"They do have more mental health problems," Dr. Strobel said. "I think we're better at identifying it as a society and realize that children as young as 6 or 7 can get depressed."

The behavioral hospital says, up until now, Marijuana and alcohol abuse have topped the charts. But prescription drug abuse is quickly rising to take their places, and along with that, comes severe depression.

"Depression and drug abuse among teenagers because pill-popping is so popular," Dr. Strobel said. "Prescription drug abuse has escalated among kids in Jr. high and high school across the nation and in this area as well."

Local school districts say at least one substance abuse case turns up in their office every day. And NewsWest 9 found, most of the expulsions center around drugs, alcohol, and more frequently, prescription pills.

"I think prescription drugs are the most dangerous," ECISD Lead Counselor, Wayne Wallace, said. "They're selling them for $5 a pill and they don't even know what they're selling."

"A lot of times they're lethargic, sometimes they're belligerent, sometimes it's a physical thing where their pupils look dilated, their speech is slurred," Tracey Dees, Midland ISD R.N., B.S.N., said. "They may be acting "drunk" and it causes the teacher to be concerned about them."

Matt says these problems all start with cliques, and there's almost no group left untouched.

"No matter which one you are looking at, except for maybe one or two, all of them are partying," Davis said. "If you're going to fit in that niche, you have to mimic the behaviors of everyone in that group."

It wasn't until he found "Teen Challenge" that Matt's life started to turn around. It's a faith-based residential organization counseling anyone dealing with depression and substance abuse. Right now, they're seeing a huge spike in teenagers who are battling just about every type of addiction.

"I don't know how many calls we get for adolescents under the age of 18 and there are very few facilities that take them," Troy Clawson, Program Director for Teen Challenge, said. "That's the biggest problem we see. A lot of it is alcohol and drugs, but a lot of it is prescription."

"I was going nowhere," Davis said. "God took me from a nobody and made me a somebody. I came in here and couldn't even look anyone in the eyes because I was so beaten down by the world. Now I can honestly say I have hope for the future. There's a bright outlook."

School districts say, anytime a controlled substance is found on campus it results in expulsion and a felony charge, but counselors in both Midland and Ector counties say they're prepared for the challenges. There's several ways kids can find help in school whether it's through counseling, or Campus Crimestoppers along with numerous community resources.