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using life lessions to keep kids off drugs
by Audrey Hanes, photo by Amy Long

As drugs continue to negatively affect many people right here in Jonesboro, one man is using his personal experience to combat drug abuse, especially in area schools. Now clean for five years, Todd Clements, M.D. is passionate about educating students and their parents about the growing drug problem and how it affects the brain.

Clements is an adolescent and adult psychiatrist who is also board certified in addiction medicine and licensed in nuclear brain imaging. After growing up in Northeast Arkansas and graduating from Arkansas State University with a degree in psychology, Clements went on to graduate from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. He has authored or co-authored five books, including “Happy Pills” and “Who’s Crazy Now?” Clements now resides in Jonesboro and currently practices psychiatry in the Northeast Arkansas area. He is also an adjunct professor at Arkansas State University in the social work department, where his teaching focuses on substance abuse and addictions.

“I’m a recovering addict,” said Clements. “I was actually working down in Texas and had some addiction problems and lost my license down there. I came back here to Jonesboro, and during that time, some of what I had to do was community service. I went to Skip Mooney with Out of the Dark to see if I could do some community service with the program. He asked if I could work with some kids at schools, and that’s how I got started out.

“… I’ve been sober for five years now. This is part of what keeps me sober – it helps keep me accountable. I tell them my story and about being arrested and they hear it from me. I’ve actually been there, and I’m not just a parent telling them it’s bad.”
Clements uses his own past along with images of what effects different drugs have on the brain to reach the students during his presentations.

“What I’ve found is that the pictures work, because although you can sometimes see a lot of physical effects by looking at a person, like with meth, how it affects the brain really shows how much damage has been done. A lot of the time, it has done some permanent damage by then.

“Drugs affect whole areas of your brain. They impact your chances for success. If your brain isn’t working right, you’re going to have a hard time being successful in life. Sores on your face will clear up, and your brain will heal some, but it’s much slower and usually not completely.”

Clements uses the example of marijuana to show just how damaging daily use is to the brain. He says that whether it’s addictive or not, daily use of the drug has a profound effect on the brain, particularly the frontal lobe, which affects motivation and decision making, and the temporal lobe, which affects memory and social skills.

“You can’t argue when you see brain imaging pictures of someone who uses it daily,” said Clements. “The main problem I see with students is the marijuana issue. It’s so easy to get, and kids have the mindset that because it’s legal, it won’t really hurt you. They’re wrong.”
He also says that marijuana isn’t the only drug affecting students today.

“What I see with students is that they just use whatever is available, whatever they can get their hands on,” said Clements. “That’s what is so scary about ecstasy – it’s tablets and you never know what’s in it. Synthetic marijuana is something we talk a lot about, too. It’ s not marijuana at all – it’s a chemical that was made in somebody’s basement.

“Drugs are everywhere. They’re very easy to obtain, and a lot of times kids don’t realize the danger because they’re so exposed to them. A lot of times, kids will take things that others give them, but they really have no idea what’s in a pill. They don’t know what they’re putting in their body.”

The psychiatrist works closely with Out of the Dark, a local volunteer movement that started in 2008 after several members of Jonesboro’s community felt the need to stand up and do something about drug addiction and its resulting collateral damage.

“Out of the Dark does great work; they go into schools and catch kids early,” said Clements. “They do three things really well: prevention, educating parents and teaching about the need for more treatment options locally.”

Clements says that although many parents tend to think it’s the bad kids who experiment with drugs, he sees good kids try them, too.

“So much of it with students is their peer group,” he said.” If they’re hanging out with kids who are doing drugs, they’re going to drugs.

… I also find it’s very, very important for parents to make sure their kids are involved with something at school. Being involved is a protection; whether it’s sports or band or choir or a quiz bowl team, a group at school where you’re around peers and you can set goals for yourself is so important. It’s not foolproof, but it is somewhat of a protection.”

He encourages parents to buy and make their children take a drug test if they are suspicious of drug use, especially teenagers who are driving. Then it’s important to get them help.

For more information about Out of the Dark, visit outofthedark.org. To contact Clements, email drtoddclements@gmail.com.