Pubdate: Wed, 09 Jan 2002
Source: Inquirer (PA)
Copyright: 2002 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc
Authors: Barbara Boyer and Thomas J. Gibbons Jr., Inquirer Staff Writers
Bookmark: (Youth)


A Girl Is Suspected Of Handing Out The Drug At A North Philadelphia Middle 
School. Police Said 28 Children Took The Medication.

Before her lunch period yesterday, a 13-year-old girl handed out Xanax 
pills she had stolen from a relative to some of her friends at Roberto 
Clemente Middle School, authorities said. By the end of the day, 12 
students were taken to St. Christopher's Hospital for Children, and four 
girls were being questioned by police anxious to know how the pills got 
onto the North Philadelphia school's grounds.

Police said a total of 28 students, ages 12 to 15, took Xanax, an 
antianxiety medication similar to Valium. Of the 12 students taken to 
nearby St. Christopher's - some by paramedics - seven were treated for 
various symptoms and four were admitted, a hospital official said. None of 
the teens appeared to have life-threatening symptoms.

"It sounds like it went around like candy," said Zach Kassutto, the chief 
physician assigned to St. Christopher's emergency room. "What's amazing is 
how many of these kids took this pill without knowing what it was."

Deputy Police Commissioner Dexter Green, chief safety executive for the 
schools, said he would launch an intensive education program to prevent 
similar situations in the future.

"I've never seen anything like this," Green said last night. "I'm 
disappointed that kids would take medication not knowing what it is or what 
kind of effects it would have."

The students took various amounts of the drug, some taking up to five of 
the 1 milligram doses of Xanax, Kassutto said. As a result, they had 
various symptoms, ranging from sleepiness to seeming intoxication, he said. 
At least two, the doctor said, had a hard time staying awake.

Xanax can be lethal if taken in excessive doses or combined with other 
drugs. Kassutto said he did not believe any of the students mixed drugs or 
took lethal doses. High doses can dangerously lower blood pressure and can 
impair breathing. Vomiting can occur, and if a person is unconscious, death 
may result from drowning on the fluid.

Because the children did not arrive at the hospital within an hour of 
ingesting the drug, their stomachs were not pumped, the doctor said.

Instead, about a half-dozen received a charcoal treatment orally to absorb 
any remnants of the drug. At least two of the students were given the 
treatment through a tube because they were unable to drink the solution.

A seventh grader at the 1,350-student school at 140 W. Erie Ave., who said 
she did not take any of the pills and was unaware that the drugs had been 
passed around, came to the hospital when she heard about it on the news in 
order to see whether any of her friends had been sickened.

"I wasn't surprised. There's usually stuff like that around," said Monica 
Montes, 13, who arrived with her mother and fifth-grade sister. "I wouldn't 
take any, but there's nothing you can do about it at school."

Montes said she thinks the school should search students for drugs the same 
way they do for weapons.

Some parents who were at the hospital while their children were undergoing 
treatment were shaken and upset over the incident.

One mother, Carla Velazquez, was leaving the hospital last night with her 
seventh-grade daughter after the child was evaluated as a precaution.

"She was at a lunch table where she said a seventh grader was giving out 
Xanax and ecstasy," a popular designer drug used as a mind-altering 
stimulant, Velazquez said. "She didn't take anything, thank God."

Police said the 13-year-old girl who stole a bottle containing 100 pills of 
Xanax did not take any of the pills herself. Instead, she gave the pills to 
at least one friend yesterday morning, and the pills were then either given 
or sold to the others during a 10:45 a.m. lunch period. By noon, some of 
the children began demonstrating symptoms, including falling asleep in 
class, and were sent to the school nurse.

Shortly before 1:45 p.m., police became aware of the emergency.

Green commended the teacher who first noticed the students' symptoms. Her 
name was not available last night

"I have to tip my hat to her and give a lot of credit," Green said. "She 
was on top of this and really kept it from getting worse."

Police last night were questioning the 13-year-old girl and three other 
girls ages 13 to 15. No charges were filed last night, and the girls were 
to be released to their parents.

Police said they expected to file charges when the investigation was complete.

A school district spokesman reported another version of how the medication 
got onto school grounds. He said two students got the pills at Fifth Street 
and Erie Avenue yesterday morning and gave them to other students before 
the children entered school property.

Kassutto said: "If there's one thing we can take away from this, it's to 
teach your kids to use discretion before putting anything in their mouths."

Barbara Boyer's e-mail address is  ---
MAP posted-by: Jackl