HUDSON — The leaders of the Drug Free Clubs of America at Hudson High School hope about 800, or half the students, sign up for the club.

The Student Leadership Team officers include President Katherine Roegner, Vice President Kaitlyn Roegner, Treasurer Subi Simmons, Secretary Allison Hess, Creative Officer Nicole Jurado, Communications Officer Amy Fulton and Community Outreach Julia Tomins.

Senior Katherine Roegner founded the club last year with 424 students signing up and about 601 students signed up so far this year, with a deadline of Sept. 11. The volunteer club relies on positive reenforcement to choose not to do drugs.

"Ohio is at the heart of the opioid epidemic," Katherine said. "We want to make it the culture for kids not to do drugs."

Students who pass an initial drug test receive a full color photo ID card that unlocks rewards at school and in the community, said teacher and advisor Joe Schuch. The DFCA Student Leadership Team works closely with the high school administration to come up with school incentives, which includes things like spinning a prize wheel to win rewards during lunch periods, free pizza at home football games, preferred parking spots, and raffle drawings for cool tech items at pep assemblies. Local businesses are currently signing up to offer discounts for DFCA card-carrying members as well.

"We wanted to prevent drug use before it happens," Katherine said. "It provides students with incentives to not use drugs."

There’s no downside to someone being drug free, said junior Amy Fulton.

"I definitely stand behind the message and goals of DFCA," Amy said. "With so many drug-related issues in Ohio, I think it’s very important to spread awareness about drugs and alcohol, and to encourage students in every way possible to make positive, informed decisions about their usage."

Amy said they want the Drug Free Club at Hudson to be the "cool" club to join, with rewards for making the right choices.

"We are here to learn, but we are also here to support each other to make the right decisions and take the right path to success," said junior Subi Simmons. "You surround yourself with the right people."

Creating a safe, drug-free environment at Hudson High School and other schools is the ultimate goal, Subi said.

"The key factor is the positive vibe," Subi said. "I can stay away and stay healthy."

Some motives are more personal, as sophomore Kaitlyn Roegner shared that a cousin died of an overdose at age 20.

"A pretty close friend of mine has resorted to drugs as a way to sort of ‘escape’ his reality," said senior Julia Tomins. "It can be pretty upsetting to see someone who you’ve known for so long and have gotten so close to struggle with these things, knowing that there are so many helpful resources out there that can help you when you’re struggling."

Senior Allison Hess said friends have shown up at events hungover or high.

"When they treat drug abuse as if it’s cool or just a hobby instead of something potentially dangerous and harmful, it’s difficult to convince them that what they’re doing is hurting themselves and those around them," Allison said.

DFCA focuses on making a positive change in the community, Allison said.

"Before the club was in Hudson, I feel like teens didn’t really have a concrete system or reason to say no when offered, because the social pressure to fit in with a group and your friends are kind of extreme," Allison said.

Students have to maintain a drug free life to belong to the club. Studies show that any substance use under age 18 greatly increases the chances of addiction later in life, Schuch said.

"Confidential and random drug-testing is the backbone of the program, which comes with a cost," Schuch said. "I think a lot of students experiment with drugs and alcohol in high school which can unfortunately turn into a problem for many of them later in college and beyond. When HHS graduates come back and talk to me, they often wish they never started using in high school."

The club is looking for community support, Schuch said. The Hudson Chamber of Commerce will be dedicating time at its monthly meeting in September to help bring local businesses on board. In addition, the Hudson Community Foundation has been instrumental in helping to find donors who are passionate about the DFCA program.

Community organizations like The Dalton Foundation, Hudson Community First, and Hudson Community Foundation have contributed thousands of dollars to offset over half the cost of testing, he said. Students pay $20 of the $67 per test cost.

"I believe students will more than make up the cost with rewards they get at school as well as the discounts they get from local businesses," Schuch said.

A positive test result does not have any consequences at school, Schuch said. A student’s membership is temporarily suspended until the next round of testing and they can’t receive any rewards.

"If a substance is detected, parents receive a phone call directly from the doctor’s office that DFCA works with to analyze samples," Schuch said. "No one at Hudson High School is made aware of any test results."

The school community wants to give students and families support without them worrying about being suspended from their sport or having a record, Schuch said.

Students can sign up either online at www.drugfreeclubs.com or obtain a paper application from the main HHS office. Parents need to grant consent for the drug-testing on the application. Students apply and pay. Applicants undergo a confidential and private urine drug test at school conducted by Akron Children’s Hospital, with the next set for Sept. 11. Five random drug tests throughout the school year help teens stay drug free. 

Reporter Laura Freeman can be reached at 330-541-9434 or lfreeman@recordpub.com