Teen drug abuse is rampant say cops, counselors
Some students estimate half of middle-schoolers smoke marijuana
It could happen to your child and your family.
That was the message Tuesday morning at a Hart Middle School meeting to discuss drug abuse by students. Parents and teachers seemed shocked at what some Hart Middle School students said.
Students interviewed by counselor Tammy Schoonover estimated 25% drink alcohol and 50% smoke marijuana.
"I do see a lot of kids that are moving in that direction and it really saddens me," Schoonover said.
The estimate of the prevalence of drug and alcohol use prompted one woman in the audience to whisper, "Oh my God."
Principal Terry Conde reminded the group to "keep in mind that these answers are from our kids."
Schoonover told the group of 40 or so -- mostly teachers -- that students said kids use code words so their parents don't know what they're talking about, and often use Facebook to communicate their plans. She said the students told her that frequently parents don't have their child's Facebook password and aren't "friended" by their children on the popular social network.
Officer Ryan Tujague, part of the Police Department's Special Enforcement Unit, said marijuana and alcohol abuse is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to drug use by teens in Pleasanton. He pointed toward a recent nationwide study that put use of the prescription narcotic OxyContin and its generic counterpart Oxycodone by teens at more than 41%, with marijuana use at just over 20%.
Tujague said students crush OxyContin pills and snort the powder, use aluminum foil to heat it and inhale the vapors, or melt it down and inject it. He explained that those ways ingest the entire contents at once, as opposed to taking a pill. Tujague confirmed in a separate conversation that one student at Pleasanton Middle school had recently been busted with the drug.
He said he knew little about Oxycodone when he started with the special unit, which focuses on drugs, gangs and prostitution.
"It was a baptism by fire. I had no idea about this," Tujague said, adding those involved are often "not your typical kids that you would think of as addicts."
He said teens involved with Oxycodone, which he described as "drugstore heroin," can be straight-A students, athletes or cheerleaders.
Tujague said use of the narcotic is often a straight path to harder drugs, especially now that the manufacturer of Oxycontin has reformulated it to make it uncrushable and to turn to gel when mixed with water, making it impossible to shoot and difficult to snort.
"We do have heroin in our city because of OxyContin," he told the crowd. He said some young people have turned to heroin because it's less expensive -- $50 for a gram, which can last for multiple highs versus $140 for an Oxycodone pill -- despite knowing that heroin can be cut with things like shoe polish or even rat poison, and added that drug use is often linked to crime, such as a recent string of burglaries, with addicts pawning items to buy drugs.
Five women who are part of the recently formed group Mothers with a Purpose confirmed what Tujague said. The women, identified only by their first names, shared their stories of coming to grips with the addiction of a child.
One mother told about her child who became addicted while attending Foothill High School. She said he first used OxyContin, then moved to heroin; she said she was unaware until she received a call from another parent.
"Needless to say, I was totally shocked. Little did I know that my journey had just begun," she told the crowd. "This is a journey we're going to be on for the rest of our lives.
She told about finding needle marks between her child's toes and how he would try to kill himself by shooting up as much as he could. Eventually his drug use led her to kick him out of the house, and he wound up living under a bridge with track marks up and down his arms.
"I thought I'd never see him again," she said, adding that she finally got the call she hoped for: "Mom, I need help. Please help me. I'm done."
That led to an up-and-down journey, with her son finally hitting bottom and taking the first steps toward recovery.
Another mother told about her son, "a popular athletic boy who liked everybody and everybody liked him," who turned to OxyContin use and began associating with unfamiliar people.
"I felt like a prisoner in my own home," she said, breaking into tears.
Her son is now in recovery, and she offered some simple advice for others who have a son or daughter they are concerned about: Limit the amount of cash that children have access to. Monitor calls.
"Lock up your prescription drugs, including cough syrup, she said. "Don't think it can't happen to you."
Cough syrup, according to Tujague, is often readily accessible for kids who can get several bottles and drink them at once or mix them with fruit-flavored drinks for a cheap high.
Heather Mackey, a teen counselor with Axis Community Health, said she sees some general trends. She said middle school students generally use marijuana, but the time they get to high school, they use it "all day every day," graduating to harder drugs, including Oxycodone and ecstasy, a hallucinogen.
Mackey said Pleasanton teens often start later and some go right to pills, which can be much harder to kick.
Another mother, whose son is also a recovering drug addict, said, "I would have sat in a meeting like his and said 'Not my kid' -- but it was my kid."
"Addiction is not a choice, it's a disease," she added. "It can and will happen to the most perfect family."