Pubdate: Thu, 10 Jan 2002
Source: Inquirer (PA)
Copyright: 2002 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc
Author: Barbara Boyer, Martha Woodall and Susan Snyder
Note: Inquirer staff writers Thomas J. Gibbons Jr. and Ralph Vigoda 
contributed to this report, as did Alicia Caldwell of the Inquirer suburban 
Bookmark: (Youth)


A small army of specialists converged on Roberto Clemente Middle School 
yesterday, a day after 28 students - 12 of whom received hospital treatment 
- - had taken powerful doses of Xanax that had been pillaged from a 
relative's home by a 13-year-old girl.

Veteran police, school officials and experts agree they had never seen a 
mass consumption like the one at the North Philadelphia school. The 
prescription antianxiety drug had been passed among friends, ages 12 to 15, 
at lunch and swallowed mostly because of peer pressure, authorities said.

"This is very unusual," said Darryl Smith, one of 20 substance-abuse 
professionals sent to the school yesterday. "This is not likely to happen 
in any school, even the worst schools in Philadelphia."

Although Tuesday's episode was considered rare, the abuse of Xanax - a 
sedative similar to Valium and widely known as "xanies" and "blues" - has 
become very popular, especially among the young.

Easily available on city and suburban streets, selling for $1 to $3 a pill, 
Xanax is known to have effects similar to heroin and alcohol.

Philadelphia Police Inspector Jerry Daley of the Narcotics Division said 
the drug, which can be deadly when taken in high doses or mixed with other 
drugs or alcohol, is gaining more of a presence.

"It's also among the most popular of the prescription drugs abused by young 
people," Daley said.

To treat anxiety, adults typically begin with a .25-milligram prescription, 
said Thomas Brouette, chief physician of addiction at the Belmont Center 
for Comprehensive Treatment in Philadelphia. One milligram, he said, is a 
strong prescription. Those sold illegally on the street are usually .25- or 
.50-milligram doses, officials said.

On Tuesday, some students popped up to six 1-milligram pills and were so 
drugged they could not stay awake in class. Four students hospitalized 
overnight at St. Christopher's Hospital for Children were released early 
yesterday morning. Other students with minor symptoms were treated and 
released Tuesday.

By yesterday, police had released four teenage girls, ages 13 to 15, who 
had been questioned about distributing the drug. The investigation 
continues, and charges may come by the end of the week, police said.

Smith said the students told him they had taken the drug willingly. Stories 
of spiked drinks and food have been unfounded, authorities said: The 
students had succumbed to peer pressure.

Ruth DuBois, executive director of the corporate alliance, said 
adolescents, especially younger ones in school with older ones, are 
particularly susceptible to peer pressure.

"I've never heard of it happening like this except at a rave party. Even 
then, they don't start dropping like these kids did," DuBois said. "This 
says that we need to have much more in the way of prevention and education."

Officials say Xanax has become increasingly popular since the 1980s, when 
experts believed it was not addictive. Health experts now warn it is a 
highly addictive drug, dangerous for adults and teens if not taken 
properly. Police say the drug has shown up at raves, all-night dance 
parties where teenagers and young adults frequently take designer drugs.

Last October in Montgomery County, Dianna Walters, 16, a junior at Upper 
Merion High School, died after mixing alcohol and Xanax. Edward Johnson, 
known as "Mr. Ed," was charged last month with providing alcohol and 
prescription drugs to teenagers who police said used Johnson's Bridgeport 
home as an "underage speakeasy."

"Abuse of prescription drugs, especially by youths, is on the rise," said 
Bruce L. Castor Jr., Montgomery County district attorney. "This is one more 
thing you have to lay on the doorstep of parents to be vigilant about. And 
parents have to keep their eyes open. If your kid seems dopey and sleepy at 
3 in the afternoon, maybe there's something up there."

Hollie Brayer, clinical director of the Bridge, a residential treatment 
facility in Northeast Philadelphia, said a majority of the teens treated 
have used Xanax and about 40 percent say it is their drug of choice.

"They get it in the street and they typically buy it by the pill," Brayer 
said. "Others go 'pill shopping' in the medicine cabinet of relatives."

Parents, she said, should secure medications or destroy any medications 
they are no longer using. For teenagers, a dependence can form quickly, 
Brayer said.

One 18-year-old in treatment at the Bridge said he tried Xanax when he was 13.

"My friends were using them," he said. "I saw how they were acting. I was 
curious and wanted to try."

At the Roberto Clemente campus yesterday, students were still buzzing about 
Tuesday's incident.

"Everybody was talking about this," said Antonia Henry, 12, a seventh 
grader. "What do kids our age need to be dealing with pills like that and 

Sixth grader Milik Palmer, 12, said students were frightened by what had 
happened. "The kids were scared that it would take their breath away, and 
they would die," he said.

Juan Mercado, who was picking up his 12-year-old daughter, Carisa, said the 
students' use of Xanax during lunch was unusual and disturbing.

"I am sure this was isolated," Mercado said. "There are some drugs in this 
community, but for the most part, Clemente is secure. It is not one of the 
worst schools in the district. It is one of the better schools."

The willingness of so many students to take the drugs prompted officials to 
assemble professionals quickly to help deal with the aftermath. The experts 
answered questions and spoke about the effects of the drugs and peer pressure.

"The kids voluntarily took the drugs. No one made them do it," said Smith, 
a prevention specialist with the Corporate Alliance for Drug Education, a 
not-for-profit drug-education program in Bala Cynwyd. "They took them 
because of peer pressure and because somebody told them it would make them 
feel good."

Philadelphia school officials said there are drug-prevention curriculums at 
all of the city's 264 public schools. Some schools also have drug counselors.
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