Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Princeton Times

November 11, 2011

Drug forum: Medicine cabinets could hide deadly contents

PRINCETON — When it comes to drug abuse, Mercer County authorities say children and teens know volumes more than their parents and teachers might think.

“If you don’t think drugs are a problem in our schools, you are sadly mistaken. The schools are where the dealing is happening,” Tina Rose, a juvenile probation officer and coordinator of the Mercer County Juvenile Drug Court, told the audience gathered for a community forum on prescription drug abuse Thursday.

The event, hosted by the Creating Opportunities for Youth Coalition, invited people from all walks of life and a host of drug abuse, treatment and law enforcement careers to unite in an honest discussion of the prescription drug abuse problem in and around Mercer County.

The discussion that emerged revealed that concerned citizens and social services workers throughout the region are worried, but the answers are sometimes all too hard to identify.

Although the forum was designed to target prescription drug abuse, discussion indicated the drug problem in the region runs the gamut, from synthetic marijuana to prescription painkillers created to ease pain of surgery patients.

Many of the experts agreed that drugs of all kinds are simply too easy to access.

“They just have to open their medicine cabinets at home, and there’s Xanax, Valium, whatever they want,” Allison Huson, an attorney at ChildLaw Services, said.

While synthetic marijuana and so-called bath salts have garnered increased media attention lately, since they were once available over the counter, Rose said there’s a prescription drug that is growing in popularity on the streets.

“Opana is the thing now. It’s time-released. I can take it in the morning and cruise through the day,” she said, sharing what the juveniles in Teen Drug Court have told her.

Opana is the brand name of the narcotic oxymorphone, designed to treat moderate to severe pain.

David Woolwine is a juvenile probation officer, and the vast majority of the files in his caseload trace their roots to substance abuse in some form. In fact, he estimated at least 95-98 percent of his cases involve the illegal use of drugs.

One of the realities he faces and fights on a regular basis is that parents don’t care enough about their children’s activities to get involved.

“I get the same responses from the parents that I get from the kids —  ‘It’s just marijuana, or it’s just pills, or more recently, it’s just fake weed,’” Woolwine said.

For people who doubt the dangers of synthetic marijuana, Woolwine cited the recent example of a 13-year-old boy from Pittsburgh. He bought a package of the synthetic marijuana and decided to smoke it in a hollowed-out Pez dispenser.

The combination of synthetic chemical substances and the melting plastic created a fatal effect.

“He dry-cleaned his lungs, basically,” Woolwine said. “He had a double-lung transplant, but the damage was too severe. He died anyway.”

So what should concerned parents do?

All of the experts agreed there were some simple steps that could make a huge difference.

First, try to avoid making children dependent upon medication. Although over-the-counter painkillers and cold medications are largely safe, teaching children that turning to pills is the best practice can create more dangerous trends later in life.

Instead, encourage children to deal with headaches by getting something to eat or drink. If parents believe the pain is only mild and temporary, officials suggested diverting the child’s attention.

However, these methods only work when the pain a child endures is mild and temporary. No one at the forum advocated withholding necessary medical treatment.

As a parent, Huson recommended that parents look over their children’s every move.

“If you think your kid is acting a little off, take them and get them drug-tested,” she said.

The Mercer County Day Report Center will offer drug-testing for $35 per test.

Huson reported that she routinely takes her daughter’s Facebook user name and password and examines the communication she sees there. In one instance, she found a 16-year-old acquaintance photographed smoking marijuana and drinking substances she doubted included water.

When Huson confided what she found to the girl’s parents, she said they had no idea how to handle the situation.

“Parents are just letting their kids run over them. They’re afraid to discipline them,” she said.

Rose said community education, increased involvement and additional drug treatment programs could help decrease drug abuse locally, and she said she hopes the West Virginia Legislature gives her a tool to curb the substances traded and sold at school.

“If there was a stiffer penalty for possession on school property, it would carry a lot more weight [with the kids],” she said.

Currently, simple possession at school carries the same penalty as simple possession of controlled substances anywhere. Rose hopes the Legislature will enact a law similar to the one that dramatically increases the fine for carrying a firearm onto school property.

“That would cut down on the [dealer’s] clientele, dramatically,” she said.

In the meantime, Huson, Woolwine and Rose agreed that parents, teachers, church leaders and all adults should try to instill a respect for the law and the rules of the land.

“I get kids all the time who tell me they’re just smoking marijuana, and it’s a natural plant. I don’t care. It’s illegal. They are breaking the law,” she said.

Mercer County Teen Court Director Beth Sizemore said she hears many of the same arguments in the teens that find their way into her program.

For more information on the local drug issues facing teens and ways to get involved, contact Community Connections, Inc., and the Creating Opportunities for Youth Coalition by calling 304-913-4956.

— Contact Tammie Toler at ttoler@ptonline.net.

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