Drug, alcohol stats concern school officials
Approximately one-quarter of last year's Park Rapids seniors reported drinking and driving and even more drank or used drugs right after school.
With prom and graduation coming up, statistics like these concern Al Judson, Area High School principal, and Deb Timmerman, licensed chemical dependency counselor.
"We are helping kids, but sometimes chemicals are getting in the way," Judson said.
Judson and Timmerman say parent awareness and involvement can play a huge rule in helping young people turn their lives around. Denial only delays the start.
This is Timmerman's second year of working with students here through a contract with Stellher Human Services.
"It's not a cure-all," Judson said of Timmerman's efforts. "But if what she does isn't effective, students are placed in another facility. Then we lose out and the students lose out because they're not able to keep up on their credits and they're ruining their health," Judson said.
Even when they're in school, if they're abusing alcohol or drugs, their judgment is clouded, Timmerman added.
Timmerman does chemical assessments when students show signs of having problems with chemical use. The level of treatment depends on the outcome, she explains. Some are experimenting, some abuse drugs or alcohol and others are dependent.
She's working mostly with 15- and 16-year-olds.
Some students are steered to the Change Directions class, which they must take with their parents.
Others can be treated on an outpatient or in-patient basis. Timmerman works with these students on after-care for those who've been in treatment. Because she's on board, students don't have to travel to do it and they can earn a school credit and keep from getting behind, Judson explained.
Treatment for those students who are dependent lasts a minimum of 45 days. Timmerman explained that once students turn 16, they don't need their parents' permission to go into treatment. They can admit themselves.
Fortunately, paying for treatment is not the obstacle it once was. Insurance may pay or there is co-funding from another source. Timmerman helps set up payment.
One way to look at it, Judson said, is "pay now or pay later," both financially and with students' health.
"Often, young people have to go through treatment four times before they abstain," she said. That's why taking action early is the best plan.
Judson said school staff quickly see the positive change in students when they've been through treatment. "Their attitude changes," he said.
When they start using again, they experience mood swings and their grades decline, Judson said.
Other signs of relapse, according to Timmerman, are when students start hanging out with the same friends again, begin breaking curfews and are lying about what they're doing.
Students also may begin losing interest in school or other activities, not going to family functions any more, have a limited number of friends and red eyes. Students also may show signs of either being extremely tired or having an extreme amount of energy.
Any or all these behaviors should be a sign to parents, too.
"We need to educate parents it's crucial these students get help," Judson said. At this young age, students' brains and emotions are still developing.
"And the sooner they get help, the less likely they are to become dependent," said Timmerman.
"The frustrating part is when parents ignore signs or deny them," Judson added.
"The best thing parents can do is to be as strong as possible and do something early on," said Timmerman.
While use of methamphetamines has decreased dramatically since the Legislature required drugs with ephedrine to be sold behind the counter, Judson said, alcohol and marijuana use remain high and a new substance has been added to those students abuse - prescription drugs.
The Minnesota Student Survey showed students are using drugs not prescribed by a physician: diet pills, Ritalin, OxyContin, Percoset, tranquilizers and others.
According to the Park Rapids survey results, last year, 16 percent of 9th grade males, 19 percent of 9th grade females, 10 percent of 12th grade males and 38 percent of 12th grade females used prescription drugs not prescribed by a doctor from one to nine times during the prior 12 months.
At the Prior Lake-Savage Area School, two high school students were arrested Feb. 20 for illegally selling the prescription drug Adderall.
A Savage police captain, said, "Most parents know how to look for illegal drugs, like marijuana, cocaine or methamphetamine, but many are less aware of the presence of the misuse of prescription drugs.
"Everyone has someone at home who is taking prescription medications, and steps need to be taken to keep them away from kids," he added.
Besides talking with their children about peer pressure and the dangers of prescription drug abuse, he suggested creating an inventory of prescription and over-the-counter medications in the home and discarding old and unused ones.
Judson said grandparents' medicine cabinets also may be a source of supply.
Students have been known to mix nonprescription drugs to make a "cocktail," Judson added. That creates a situation where students don't know for sure what they're ingesting.
Timmerman described it as "pharmaceutical meth."
She agreed with Judson the use of meth has dropped. "I haven't worked with anyone using meth this year," she said. Last year, about 50 percent of the students Timmerman saw had used or attempted to use meth.
Access to other drugs
It is still easy for students to obtain alcohol and marijuana. What students don't realize is today's marijuana is from 40-70 times more concentrated than it used to be, Judson said.
Another of their concerns is binge drinking, especially among girls, is on the rise. "It is not uncommon for girls to try to out drink the boys," Judson said.
The student survey also recorded this trend last year. Park Rapids students completing the survey responded they had had five or more drinks at least once in the last two weeks in the following numbers: 15 percent of 9th grade males, 5 percent of 9th grade females, 15 percent of 12th grade males and 15 percent of 12th grade females.
"They think they're 10 feet tall and bullet proof," Timmerman said. "Or they tell themselves, 'I'm not as bad as them' or 'I was just experimenting' and that makes it okay."
Timmerman and Judson remind that several Minnesota students died last year after binge drinking. "Maybe, they (local students) are lucky, but there are a lot of students that didn't make it," Timmerman said.
Most students use alcohol or other drugs as a result of peer pressure. After treatment, peer pressure is often why they start using again.
But there are other reasons. Timmerman said sometimes kids feel they don't fit in anywhere except with students who abuse drugs. The number one reason kids say they use is they're bored, Timmerman said.
There are things to do, Judson said. In addition to extracurricular activities, including sports and fine arts, the 5th quarter program gives students something to do after home ball-games and meets.
Coming up there will be the post prom party and senior slam. Both are alcohol-free events.
There are a lot of resources available to students in school and in the community. Parents are encouraged to learn about them and help students find out more about them.