There appears to be an increase in underage drinking and marijuana use in the South Hills, according to District Judges Robert Wyda and Blaise Larotonda.
The local magistrates addressed the problems they see in the Upper St. Clair, Bethel Park and Mt. Lebanon communities during "Straight Talk" Wednesday night—a meeting organized by the Upper St. Clair Youth Steering Committee and the Together in Parenting (TIP) committee of the PTA Council.
Larotonda said there has been a sharp increase of underage drinking cases in his courtroom in the last six or seven months.
Wyda said he's seen evidence of an increase of marijuana use in his courtroom, especially among freshman and sophomore girls.
And he said the vote to legalize pot in Colorado and Washington on Election Day does not help the problem.
"I see it (marijuana abuse) becoming more of a societal trend," he said. "I'm absolutely against it (the legalization of marijuana). It's devastating for young people to get involved with drugs, even if it's marijuana. It's so destructive in so many ways. And I feel very strongly about that."
Larotonda agreed and referred to the Mt. Lebanon mother who was hit by a vehicle driven by a young man high on marijuana.
"Tell them (her family) they (the government) should legalize it (marijuana)," he said.
Wyda warned parents and students that police use Facebook photos for evidence in his courtroom. In a recent case, there was a parent in the background of the photo smiling as students were taking part in illegal activity.
Wyda and Larotonda stressed the importance of good and tough parenting.
"First and foremost, we have to fight this battle at home," Wyda said. "We (parents) have to be savvy. We have to be smart."
U.S. District Judge Mark Hornak, of Upper St. Clair, provided a federal view to the meeting. He said the prevalence of addiction and presence of weapons has surprised him.
He said he thinks local, young people buying drugs might not realize how close they are to danger.
"The risk I see is that young people start playing in a league they can't get out of," he said.
"You'll get shot for a $20 debt (nowadays)," added Tim Grealish, a drug and treatment specialist for TEG, LLC.
However the meeting ended on a positive note. Wyda and Larotonda said that they believe the majority of the youth in the South Hills are staying away from the illegal behaviors.