Pubdate: Sat, 25 Jun 2011 Source: Asheville Citizen-Times (NC) Copyright: 2011 Asheville Citizen-Times Contact: http://www.citizen-times.com/contact/letters.shtml Website: http://www.citizen-times.com/ Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/863 Author: Gabriella LEE, COLLIER HIGH SCHOOLS DEAL WITH DRUGS Lequian Hudson was a freshman at Dunbar High School when he was slipped his first baggie of marijuana. In four years, his habit progressed to ecstasy and cocaine. But Hudson, now 18 and a senior, said pride kept him from quitting the drugs he sold and used, which eventually landed him in juvenile jail on weapons and drug possession charges. "I wanted to show off," Hudson said. "I saw a lot of other people get involved and I wanted to do it too." Forty-one percent of Lee and Collier County high school students like Hudson have experimented with illicit drugs, according to a state-administered survey from 2010. Both are slightly more than the state average, 40 percent. According to the study, called the Florida Youth Substance Abuse Survey, Lee exceeds the state average in the number of high schoolers who have tried prescription pain relievers and amphetamines, which anti-drug advocates say indicates a change in types of drugs teens are trying. In Collier, more teens than the state average have tried alcohol and depressants. Lee County School District officials reported 66 incidents of drug possession and 10 of drug sales at the county's high schools in the 2007-08 school year, the last year statistics were available. Collier County schools, including elementary, middle and high schools, had 68 incidents of possession, 43 of use and 14 of sale this year. The substance abuse survey will give state and local agencies opportunity to determine if more programs and how state and grant money should be distributed, said Erin Gillespie, spokeswoman for the Department of Children and Families, one of the survey's partners. "These surveys are a really good tool because they are anonymous and you get a better view of the truth of the situation," Gillespie said. Usage dropped The statistics concern anti-drug advocates. But the numbers show a downward slope of teens trying illicit drugs in Lee, which dropped almost 4 percent since 2008, according to the survey. Lt. Blake Lee, who heads the Lee County Sheriff's Office's youth services unit, which includes school resource officers, said it's notable that number is not the majority. "Even though there are kids participating in anti-social, destructive behavior, the vast majority are doing the right thing," Lee said. Deborah Comella, executive director of the Coalition for a Drug-Free Southwest Florida, blames the percentage of teens using drugs on poor parenting. Plus, a downturn in the economy means less supervision of teens because both parents are more likely to be working or looking for jobs. Anti-drug advocates like Comella also worry summer break could bring more experimentation. "All those commercials that say the most dangerous time of the day is between 3 and 6, they're all true," said Comella, referring to the time when teens are home from school, but parents are at work. "Now that summer is coming, there's going to be even more unsupervised time." Law enforcement, school officials and anti-drug advocates warn parents to be vigilant about getting rid of unused prescriptions and paying attention to what their children are up to. Varying ideas on parenting can make that difficult, as anti-drug agencies report coming into contact with parents who use drugs with their teens. Ken and Beth Schaffer were shocked to find out their son's friend's parents let them smoke marijuana freely. They wondered how they could deter their son's drug use if other parents approved of it. Their son Daulton's marijuana use was no mystery - they say he told them about it often and they found the drug at their home. But his behavior makes them wonder if he partakes in other drugs. Last week, Daulton Schaffer, 17, accused of attacking his father was arrested on battery charges. His friends told Ken Schaffer he's taken ecstasy and cocaine. Daulton Schaffer declined comment. Two questions April Thompson asks two questions when speaking to high school students. First, the prevention educator at Southwest Florida Addiction Services asks how many of them know people who say they do drugs. All hands go up. Next, Thompson asks, how many know those who are actually using drugs. Two or three raise their hands. To Thompson, this is proof teens who talk a lot about drugs really aren't doing them. "It's all about fitting in," she said. Thompson speaks to teens as part of a drug prevention program SWFAS has at three Lee County high schools. The school district, in partnership with community groups, also presents programs such as the Drug House Odyssey, which informs high schoolers of the consequences alcohol and drugs can have. The school district offers counseling if students and families struggle with substance abuse and connects families to outside agencies, said district spokesman Joe Donzelli. Thompson's point about fitting in rings true in a Lee County School District report, which showed 27 percent of students at five area high schools used marijuana, but believed 85 percent of classmates did. Measures in place David LaRosa, Fort Myers High School's principal, said his school has measures in place to take care of drugs that change hands in the hallways. He didn't want to disclose what they are because he doesn't want students to pick up on them. "We don't ignore it, we're aggressive with it," he said. He said academics at his school are rigorous and points to its consistently high test scores and graduation rate. But LaRosa understands, high school kids in general are going to experiment. "There isn't a public or private high school around who can't say drugs aren't around," he said. Dunbar senior Hudson acknowledges, too, teens at his high school use drugs. But he keeps his distance from them now, after entering juvenile drug court last December following his arrests. Hudson has relapsed twice since being in the program, which aims to decrease delinquency and drug use among troubled teens. Still, he knew something had changed when he regretted doing the drugs that had been present through most of high school. He said he realized the drugs he'd used to escape weren't worth it. - --- MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.