Preventing adolescent drug and alcohol use

Expert panel talks signs, symptoms, trends

Parent interaction, communication and supervision are key components to keeping youth off drugs and alcohol.

During a forum March 27 at Isanti Middle School, sponsored by Allina Health and Cambridge Medical Center, a panel of experts touched on several topics relating to drug and alcohol use, including current trends, signs and symptoms, legal consequences, prevention measures and impact on education and the community.

Isanti County Attorney Jeff Edblad speaks at an adolescent drug and alcohol use prevention forum held March 27 at Isanti Middle School. Also presenting were (from left) School Resource Officers Adam Gau and Jesse Peck, and Rebecca Fuller, director of Oakland Area Learning Center.
Isanti County Attorney Jeff Edblad speaks at an adolescent drug and alcohol use prevention forum held March 27 at Isanti Middle School. Also presenting were (from left) School Resource Officers Adam Gau and Jesse Peck, and Rebecca Fuller, director of Oakland Area Learning Center.
Photo by Rachel Kytonen

The forum included presentations by School Resource Officers Jesse Peck with Cambridge Police and Adam Gau with Isanti Police; Charity Allen, chemical dependency counselor with District 911 and District 314; Isanti County Attorney Jeff Edblad; and Rebecca Fuller, Oakland Area Learning Center Director.

Peck, who serves as a school resource officer for eight different schools, including Cambridge-Isanti High School, said parents are key in the fight against drugs and alcohol.

“There is a lot of stuff going on at Cambridge-Isanti High School,” Peck said. “There is a huge tobacco problem, e-cigarette problem, and there are new inventions out there relating to smoking marijuana without giving any aroma. One thing we need is increased supervision; we have to have interaction and communication with our kids.”

Parents need to ask questions.

“If your child is coming home at midnight, you need to interact with them when they walk through that door,” Peck said. “Take a look at them and look at their eyes. Talk with them: Are they slurring their words? Find out where they were, and who they were with.”

Peck said one summer when he was on patrol he got a call about an out-of-control juvenile at home. When he arrived at the home, he saw the juvenile had a padlock on his bedroom door.

“When I asked the parents about the padlock, they said, ‘Our son doesn’t like it when we go in his room,’” Peck said. “Well, parents, it’s your house, and you have a right to search your kids’ room and go through their stuff.”

Peck said parents should also pay attention to the music their kids listen to, and know their kids’ phone and computer passwords. Alcohol is also a problem at CIHS, Peck said. He noted he usually deals with two to three intoxicated students per month.

Peck commended the staff at CIHS for being proactive.

“Isanti County does have a K-9 that we bring into the schools when it is available,” Peck said. “The high school is very pro-law enforcement and lets us bring in the K-9 anytime. In my line of work, it’s always good to keep the kids guessing.”

Gau, who works primarily at Isanti Middle School, said he’s never arrested even one student, but it’s not that he hasn’t had the chance.

“It’s because I tell the kids it’s my job to work with you, not against you, and I have a responsibility to you day or night,” he said.

Gau said e-cigarettes are popular with middle school students and said in 2011-12 he had two violations at the school and nine student discussions. So far in 2013-14, he’s had nine school violations and more than 100 student discussions. He said the student discussions can involve the student using, a friend using or a parent or relative using.

Gau said if he’s catching nine students using e-cigarettes at school, it’s more than likely probably 20 to 30 students are using them.

Gau also mentioned there have been three to four alcohol violations at the school for the past six years. He said students smoking, or vaping, alcohol is also something that is growing in popularity and parents need to be aware of.

“I’ve probably had at least 30 conversations this year with students about smoking alcohol,” Gau said.

Edblad said parents need to be aware of the signs and symptoms associated with drug and alcohol use, and he cited a recent study through Hazelden and the Betty Ford Foundation that stated six out of 10 parents of children ages 12-24 couldn’t name a warning sign or symptom associated with drug or alcohol use.

Edblad touched on the rise in heroin use and mentioned heroin deaths have tripled since 2011, with 63 heroin-related deaths reported in Twin Cities hospitals last year. He said Mexican drug cartels are getting heroin into distribution centers in the U.S.

He said last week he spent Tuesday morning in court ordering two young adults to chemical dependency treatment centers because of heroin addiction.

“The goal of the juvenile justice system is rehabilitation,” Edblad said.

Edblad said several factors come into play when sentencing a juvenile, such as the juvenile’s past criminal history, contacts with law enforcement, and parent and school reports.

He explained most juvenile petty offenses result in a fine and court-ordered conditions, such as probation, Sentence to Serve, educational classes, chemical dependency treatment programs, random drug and alcohol testing, or out-of-home placements in the corrections system.

Besides financial consequences, Edblad said drug and alcohol convictions can have civil, immigration, employment, family and housing ramifications.

Allen worked in an adolescent residential treatment center for eight years before beginning to work in schools four years ago.

“Twenty years ago, I was an eighth-grader walking through these halls when we had two classmates die in a car accident,” Allen said. “A lot of the students turned to chemical use to deal with this. I knew then and there this is what I wanted to do.”

Allen said she sees students individually, as well as in group and family sessions. She also collaborates with the student’s therapist, probation agent, treatment counselor and other professionals involved in the student’s sobriety.

“Alcohol and drug addiction doesn’t discriminate,” Allen said. “It’s pretty widespread, and it doesn’t matter who you are.”

Allen said the top three chemical uses among 12th-graders include marijuana; over-the-counter medications such as Robitussin or Benadryl; and prescribed prescriptions such as Oxycotin and Vicodin.

She said use of heroin, meth, e-cigarettes, acid, methadone, molly/ecstasy and “gates of Hades” are on the rise.

Fuller touched on the influence of drugs and alcohol on student’s behaviors such as being distracting in the classroom, argumentative, stealing, loneliness, bullying, skipping and truancy, unsafe and unpredictable behavior, and possessing weapons.

“If you help your student succeed academically, they’ll feel good about themselves, and we just all want to be accepted among our peers,” Fuller said. “You need to plan positive opportunities for your kids to interact with other students. You also need to draw lines and set boundaries with your children and your families.”