Pubdate: Sat, 25 Jun 2011
Source: Asheville Citizen-Times (NC)
Copyright: 2011 Asheville Citizen-Times
Author: Gabriella


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

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

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

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. 
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