September 15, 2014

Town hall meeting panel discusses teen drug use

Lauren Begley
During a March 24 town hall meeting on teen drug use at Standish-Sterling Central High School, (l-r) Theresa Walenjus, Tony Ott, Edward Smith, Don McIntyre and Jodi Price talk to residents and parents in a panel discussion about how to address the issue of drug use to teenagers.
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STANDISH — A special town hall meeting at Standish-Sterling Central High School, held March 24, brought together a group of residents and parents concerned about the topic of teenage drug use.

A five-person panel discussed the current state of teen drug use and talked to parents about what they could do to address the issue.

“It’s more pervasive in our small community than people would like to admit,” said Troy Ott, Standish-Sterling Middle School counselor.

Ott introduced the issue of teen drug use to those who attended the meeting. He said that no one’s brain is wired to take drugs, but the brain is set up to potentially become addicted to drugs.

Ott also said that the biggest issue for him is the types of drugs teenagers are taking.

“It’s the stuff in your house that makes this dangerous,” he said. “Be aware of what you have.”

The panel also addressed some of the potential warning signs of drug use.

Sinus problems could potentially be caused by huffing certain chemicals in order to get a high, Ott said. Other signs include trying to hide the smell of breath by using mints or mouthwash or asking for a lot of money.

Undersheriff Don McIntyre said that people can never determine what type of kid will end up taking drugs. Teenagers who are labeled “bad kids” are not necessarily the only ones trying drugs.

He also said that 42 percent of STING investigations are turning out to be prescription drugs.

“We’re seeing people dying on the streets from drug overdose,” he said.

Theresa Walenjus, a counselor at SSC, said that parental supervision is key to dealing with the problem of teen drug use. She also encouraged parents to talk to school counselors if they need any help discussing drug use with their children.

“Do not be afraid to come to the school,” she said.

Edward Smith, a pharmacist for Rite Aid, was also on the panel and talked to the group more about the effect of drugs on the body and how parents could better store and dispose of prescription drugs.

Smith talked about the difference between the two main types of drugs: stimulants and sedatives. Stimulants include types of amphetamines, such as methamphetamine. Sedatives include types of opiates, which are drugs that convert to morphine in the body.

Different sedatives convert to morphine at different rates, with pure morphine being the quickest way to feel its effects.

“I’m more concerned about lower-chain drugs,” Smith said.

Smith said lower-level drugs contain acetaminophin, which is the active ingredient in drugs like Tylenol. This substance has to be processed by the liver, and too much of it can overload the body and cause the liver to shut down.

The importance of locking up prescription drugs and how to dispose of them was also stressed by Smith.

He said that a DARE fact sheet stated that 39 percent of houseguests will look into their hosts’ medicine cabinets.

“The bathroom is the absolute worst place to keep drugs,” Smith said.

Not only is it unsafe to keep drugs in an accessible area, but the general environment in a bathroom is not good for drug storage, he said.

“If a drug gets wet, it won’t dissolve,” Smith said.

The air in bathrooms does not stay constant, and the dampness in the air after taking a shower can damage pills, he said.

The biggest point the panel stressed was for parents to talk to their teenagers about drugs, regardless of how uncomfortable it might feel.

“It’s supposed to feel uncomfortable,” Ott said.

The key is for parents to be aware of their children’s action and emotions and recognize when their child is acting much different than usual.

“If you see something that doesn’t look right, it probably isn’t,” said John McPherson, a counselor at SSC.

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