Pubdate: Thu, 10 Nov 2005
Source: Plano Star Courier, The (TX)
Copyright: 2005 Plano Star Courier
Author: Brenda Bernet, Staff Writer


Greg Thomas began working with the Plano ISD at the start of a deadly 
heroin crisis that made national headlines. More than a dozen 
teenagers died from heroin overdoses.

With a background working in drug and alcohol abuse treatment 
centers, he took on the job of educating teachers, students and 
community members about drugs and their effects.

Use of heroin among teenagers has fluctuated since then as other 
drugs have become more popular, but officials in law enforcement and 
those working in local hospitals and treatment centers are seeing a 
return of heroin.

"We're pretty much full circle now," he said. "We have to raise the 
concern again about heroin."

Now Thomas is part of a three-member team of 
substance-abuse-prevention specialists hired by the Plano ISD to 
educate students about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse. Last 
month's Red Ribbon Week gave them opportunities to lead assemblies 
with fourth- and fifth-grade students. They also visit classes, from 
sixth-grade science to 12th-grade psychology. They meet with parents, 
campus administrators, counselors and teachers.

Thomas deals with students on the east cluster. Carrie Stevens 
handles the central cluster, and Tara Tevis contends with the west 
cluster. Both Stevens and Tevis graduated from Plano schools.

"There is drug use going on throughout," Stevens said. "It's not rampant."

Every year, they see an up tick in drug use in the spring because of 
spring break and prom, but the substance abuse prevention specialists 
have noticed a rise in drug use this fall that more closely reflects 
what they typically see in the spring, they said.

They are part of a Collin County Substance Abuse Coalition started a 
year ago in response to an upswing in the use of heroin and methamphetamines.

"We're back at that point we're recognizing a need to share with 
parents again," Thomas said.

Concern arose about a year ago when Gayle Jensen-Savoie, director of 
the Seay Behavioral Health Center at Presbyterian Hospital of Plano. 
Jensen-Savoie saw enough teenagers become psychotic from using 
methamphetamines or "ice" to cause concern. The teenagers were 
hallucinating and completely out of touch with reality.

Jensen-Savoie she began talking to other professionals in the field 
of drug addiction who were saw the same trends, as well as an 
increase in the use of heroin.

The heroin crisis of the late 1990s stopped because the community 
came together. The community must come together again, she said. Now 
the coalition is working to educate the community and to track 
statistics on drug use.

"We all saw an increase, but to get hard and fast numbers, there's no 
one source compiling those," she said.

The goal is to foster a decline in all drug use.

A perception exists that drug use happens on one side of the 
district, but the substance abuse prevention specialists said what 
happens on the east side, happens in the middle and on the west side.

Rumors abound, though. One rumor is that students stand outside of 
Vines High School and use drugs, they said. The school is nicknamed 
"The Pharmacy."

Although the substance-abuse prevention specialists say the rumor is 
not credible, they are not ignoring the issue. Stevens and campus 
leaders have worked with students in Peer Assistance and Leadership 
on a "T2H" or "Tell to Help" campaign to encourage students to tell 
if they of a friend who is using drugs.

"This year, we've had a decrease at Vines," she said.

Thomas said that at every campus, school liaison officers and campus 
administrators continuously patrol the campus on foot.

"We have administrators outside every entrance," Thomas said.

Substance-abuse prevention specialists might not know about students 
who use drugs several blocks from the campus, but stories of overt 
drug use on campuses have proved false, Thomas said.

Often, parents or neighbors will call and report suspected drug 
activity. Students actively leave tips with campus Crime Stoppers.

And Plano is not alone. McKinney, Allen and Frisco community members 
are dealing with the same issues, as are communities in Houston and Austin.

"You can't stereotype any more," Stevens said.

Teenagers using drugs make straight "A's," take honors classes and 
have an appearance that conveys they are well-groomed and charming.

"It's the AP student," Tevis said.

Drug use affects athletes and students from two-parent households, 
though the perceptions are that the teenagers using drugs are in 
single parent or low-income households, Thomas said. The biggest 
indicator of drug use is a radical change in behavior.

"It's not that the kids are bad," he said. "The kids are just kids. 
We were once young people, too, that had trials and tribulations."

Students often are referred by parents or teachers who suspect drug 
use who have a suspicion. The substance abuse prevention specialists 
work to gain the trust of students, and they try to show them that 
someone does care.

"You start where the student is," Stevens said. "We're trying to be 
an advocate for students."

When they confirm that a student is using drugs, they are required to 
inform parents, but they give teenagers a head start to let their 
parents know first.

The information does not go into a file, Stevens said. The goal is to 
help the student overcome their addiction.

"That's the hardest part, trying to work with parents and getting 
them to understand," Stevens said. "We genuinely care about your child."
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