27 Feb Orange County Register Reports High Schools Struggle Against Heroin Abuse
Orange County Register Reports High Schools Struggle Against Heroin Abuse- In this report, the ocregister.com describes heroin addiction in various High Schools in the Orange County Area. Read the article here.
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High schools scramble to combat rise in heroin abuse
By JOANNA CLAY / STAFF WRITER
Zac Davis didn’t think twice when he tried heroin.
It’s way cheaper and gets you higher than oxycodone, Davis remembered his friend saying. He was 15.
Davis switched. Before long, he was regularly ditching class at Fountain Valley High School and had a 0.68 grade-point average. It didn’t take long before he was kicked out of school.
“I think they were trying to show me a consequence, but I thought it was awesome,” said Davis, now 20 and sober for three years. “Free time was abundant.”
A couple of months ago, two girls at Laguna Beach High School were caught smoking heroin in the bathroom.
It’s part of a new reality police say they’re seeing: Teens across Orange County are using pills then switching to heroin.
The girls caught smoking was an “isolated incident,” Laguna Beach High Principal Joanne Culverhouse said, the second in six years. Parents say the drug problem is more widespread.
The number of Orange County ninth-graders who admit trying heroin doubled between 2006 and 2012.
The dangerous segue from alcohol and marijuana to prescription pills and heroin has become enough of a problem that high schools across the area are trying to intervene to combat the uptick in opiate use:
• Dana Hills High has a 24/7 interventionist.
• Newport-Mesa Unified has K-9 units.
• San Clemente High has a mental health worker.
Mike Darnold worked in Laguna Beach more than 10 years ago. The intervention counselor remembered being excited to work with the high school, he said. With less than 1,000 students at the time, “You could do a one-on-one with every kid.”
Back then, Laguna parents weren’t very receptive to the former Fullerton police officer’s holistic approach. The city of Dana Point hired him five years ago. When Darnold arrived at Dana Hills High, where he has an office off the mall, kids referred to the school as “Dana Pills.”
On a recent Friday morning, he sat in a gray high school sweatshirt and white sneakers, scanning his cellphone, as he waited for a girl caught with an electronic cigarette, an effort to catch kids before they start using.
“Hey, dude, I’m Mike,” he told the girl, reaching out a hand and a card. “That’s my cellphone number.”
Most kids’ phones list Darnold as “Dana Mike.”
The girl, there less than 10 minutes, spilled to Darnold about her mom, her dad and her faith. He commented on her leg injury.
“Smoke weed and skateboard?” he asked her.
“I stopped hanging out with those people,” she said, cracking her knuckles.
He invited her to a beach barbecue, hosted by the SOS Club. The “Save Our Students” club, which he founded in 2011, plans sober outings and does volunteer work in town. She said she’d think about it.
While walking out, she lingered at the door.
Can I give my friend’s mom your number? she asked. Her friend recently had been expelled from middle school for dealing drugs. Darnold said yes.
“Her mom would be so happy about this,” she said.
Darnold figured he has reduced incidents of risky behavior at Dana Hills by roughly 75 percent. Suspensions related to alcohol and drugs went from 83 in 2009-10 to 16 in 2011-12, according to state records.
There’s no one else like Darnold in the county – maybe even in California.
What makes him unique? He always is available to students and parents, Principal Jason Allemann said. His phone beeps around the clock.
It’s easy for Darnold to connect with the kids. He was once an addict.
Now 70, Darnold started drinking at age 12 and got sober at 37. Since then, he’s worked in treatment centers at Chapman Medical Center, Charter Behavioral Health System in Mission Viejo and founded the Coastal Mountain Youth Academy, a wilderness school for teens.
Driving down Golden Lantern, Darnold motions out the window.
“I’m in all of these homes,” he said, talking about families he helps.
THE SOCIAL WORKER
Not far from Dana Hills, San Clemente High School is known among some kids as “Heroin High” – but that’s changing.
The high school recently got approval from Capistrano Unified School District to bring a part-time social worker on campus.
Susan Parmelee, who works for Western Youth Services, will be a resource provider and confidante to students. She will lead education and small groups and help with broader issues such as stress. Parmelee also is the off-campus adviser for San Clemente High’s SOS Club.
Inspired by the group at Dana Hills, Sophia Spralja, a junior, started the club last year.
“I mainly wanted to bring it over because San Clemente had this stigma of ‘Heroin High’ and everyone was doing it,” she said. “I wanted to put out those rumors … that kids are out there that want to stay healthy.”
Starting with only five kids, SOS has grown to 20 students.
THE DISTRICT DIRECTOR
On a recent weekday morning, a teenage girl walked into Jane Garland’s office and told her she was high on crystal meth – a risky statement to a district official.
The student didn’t think she would get kicked out of school by telling Garland, the Newport-Mesa Unified School District’s director of student and community services.
The girl wanted to get clean but said she can’t quit. Garland is trying to get her to enter a drug education program.
“When I talk to the kids, I’m just very straight with them,” Garland said. “‘I can do this and I can do that – but I can’t get you off of it.’”
She talks to a lot of students honestly and candidly. She asks them why they use and how they feel about it.
Out of the 8,000 students in Newport-Mesa middle and high schools, Garland said there are about 200 struggling with substance abuse.
Most first-time offenders complete drug education, such as Second Chance and Juvenile Alcohol and Drug Education, or JADE. Dana Hills, San Clemente and Laguna also use JADE programs.
Garland is looking at the possibility of hiring a drug or alcohol counselor. She also wants to train teachers to be mentors.
“We know we need someone – we need more than one – that would be able to befriend these kids that have been using and check in with them all the time,” she said.
This past fall, Newport-Mesa Unified School District got K-9 units to sniff out drugs at its middle and high schools once a month.
The dogs probably aren’t catching the hardcore users, though. The canines can’t tell if you popped three pills that morning, Garland said.
“The more sophisticated drugs become, the harder it is to tell who is using them,” she said. “That’s why we’re looking at other ways of reaching kids.”
Laguna Beach High School cares about drug abuse, said Larry Bammer, president of the Laguna Beach Police Employees Association.
“There’s certainly a missing link between the police, the school district and the community,” said Bammer, a graduate of the high school who has worked in narcotics. “And I think it’s just a missing link. It’s not a missing desire or care.”
The school could be more aggressive in its use of randomized drug testing, which needs parental approval, Bammer said. School officials wouldn’t say how many parents opt in.
“When I have kids, that’s what I’m going to do,” he said. “It’s not a matter of trust. … It gives that kid the out for peer pressure: ‘Listen, I can’t. I get random drug tested by my parents.’”
Many of Newport-Mesa Unified and Capistrano Unified campuses have deputies or police officers called school resource officers.
A few years ago, Bammer and another officer created a program at Laguna Beach High called “Cop on Campus.” Officers who were interested would stop by the campus at lunch, he said. Students would provide tips to crimes; he remembered one for a stolen car.
“I think if we had a cop on campus, aside from the preventive aspect, is the kids see this relationship … they start confiding in them,” Bammer said.
Police would have a better chance of catching people who might be dealing if they had a K-9 unit, he said. But that’s expensive and needs community backing.
Tammy Keces remembers going to high school with Brandon “Brandy” Balsiger-Post, who died from alcohol and cocaine poisoning in 1991. Keces – who has two daughters in Laguna Beach High – said the girls caught smoking heroin there should spark renewed interest in prevention and education.
“This is not an isolated incident,” she said. “This is an ongoing issue that has not been addressed.”
Bammer approached the district about two-day trainings for employees, which would teach how to identify a student under the influence of specific drugs.
“The campus safety doesn’t have the skills to look down and say, ‘You have pinpoint pupils; you’re probably under the influence of heroin,’” he said. “They didn’t want to do the two-day class.”
Bammer then began working with a student, addressing drug use inside the high school.
Garrett Burk, a Laguna Beach High School senior, recently started the Laguna Prescription Drug Awareness group to educate about the dangers of pill abuse.
Last year, Burk advocated for a prescription drop-box at the police station, and in the past few months, it has gathered more than 150 pounds of medications.
The Catalyst Club officially became a club last year, and like the SOS Club, it also hosts sober outings for Laguna youth.
In an effort to reach students earlier, Laguna Beach Unified has improved parent education with night presentations, said Irene White, director of special education and student services. Laguna Beach High School Assistant Principal Bob Billinger said that a couple of times a year, former addicts come and speak to students. Capistrano and Newport-Mesa Unified campuses have similar programs.
The California Healthy Kids Survey, a self-reported anonymous survey, shows that Laguna youth are trending downward in prescription pill and heroin use, when comparing 2012 to 2010. Suspensions for drug-related incidents went up, however. There were 16 in 2012, compared with 11 in 2010, records show.
Unlike some high schools veering away from suspension for first-time offenders, Laguna is standing by it. It chose a five-day suspension for the girls caught smoking heroin in the bathroom.
School officials won’t say whether the students had prior incidents. But a second offense usually would trigger expulsion. In a city with one high school, the smallest in the county, that essentially means being kicked out of town.
Suspensions can be reduced by a re-admission committee. The girls’ suspensions were not, the district said. It’s unclear whether both girls returned to school; officials won’t say.
Last year, under a measure called AB1729, the state asked schools to look at means other than suspension for first-time offenders, such as anger management courses or counseling.
White said that suspension alone isn’t effective. Staff members make tailored plans for each student, including counseling and meetings with parents.
Since the bathroom incident, the district started Text-a-Tip, a confidential method for students and parents to seek help.
Until a couple of years ago, the district used to require a drug- or alcohol-related offense be given a referral to JADE. Now, staff members can refer struggling students to the three-day course.
“Some (parents) have honestly said, ‘It’s been a life-changing experience for my kid,’” White said.
Looking back, Zac Davis said there were obvious signs he needed help. He left tinfoil and pulled-apart pens, which he used to smoke heroin, in his room in plain view. He was always “nodding off,” a common side effect.
Davis remembers having a shot of alcohol at age 6. By 8, he had smoked marijuana and drunk with his parents. They thought it would give them some control of his life, he said. Instead, it paved the way for him to try prescription pills at 13 and then heroin at 15.
Oxycontin runs more than $50 a pill. When kids run out of cash or access to the drugs, they switch to heroin, police said. A balloon of brown heroin, with 15 hits, is about $10, Davis said.
It took Davis more than six arrests, nine probation violations and a couple of short stints in juvenile hall to want to make a change.
He went to Touchstones – an adolescent treatment center in Orange – and got clean. He now has a full-time job and is advising a 17-year-old in recovery.
These days, kids are starting with heroin, said Patti Ochoa, the Touchstones founder who will lead a new adolescent treatment center at Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo. She said adults need to reach kids at the earliest sign of risky behavior.
“You start with heroin. What do you graduate to?” Ochoa said. “The next step is dead.”
Contact the writer: 949-492-5135 or [email protected]
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