Straight Talk About Drugs

Communication is the key to keeping teens away from drugs and alcohol.


“The more you monitor your kids and the more you check in and talk with them, the more you know,” Vice Principal Jon Vranesh said. “There are going to be drugs wherever you go. You have to be on top of it.”


Vranesh was speaking to more than three dozen parents at the February Friday Forum focusing on drug issues among teens. The special guest speaker was Pleasanton police Sgt. Jim Knox, a well-known expert in the field of drugs.


“I don’t like what drugs do to our society and specifically to kids,” Knox said. “We (as police) work to get the bigger fish and cut off the supply.”


It’s up to parents to monitor their teens closely to try to keep them away from situations where teens can make bad choices to try alcohol and drugs.


“This is a good community, but every community has some form of drug problem,” Knox said. “I don’t see (the drug problem) as being any bigger today than it was when I was in high school, but trends change. It’s all about awareness, folks.”


The number one abuse problem among teens is alcohol, Knox noted. The second biggest problem is marijuana. Don’t make the mistake, he warned, of thinking that smoking a little pot is no big deal. Today’s marijuana has up to 40 percent THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the main psychoactive substance in pot. Compare that to marijuana in the 1960s and 1970s, which had a mere 5 percent THC.


“This is not the weed of the ‘60s and ‘70s,” Knox said. “It’s killer stuff, and it’s getting people screwed up.”


Methamphetamine, or meth, is a type of speed that follows marijuana in popularity.


“If you smoke meth one time, you’re addicted,” Knox warned. The initial high is so tremendous that meth addicts “are continually chasing that first high.”


What happens is that the chemicals in the meth replace the feel-good chemicals normally produced by the body, he said. As the body produces fewer feel-good chemicals, an addicted person needs more and more meth to continue to feel good.


Cocaine and ecstasy remain popular, but the growing trend is with the prescription painkiller Oxycontin and heroin. Since Oxycontin is expensive and difficult to obtain, some addicts turn to the less expensive heroin to achieve a similar high.


Parents who find wadded up foil, especially foil with black marks, should suspect drug use, Knox said. Teens use the foil to burn and inhale certain drugs.


Teens often get Oxycontin or other prescription drugs from their parents’ or grandparents’ medicine cabinets, Knox said. Keep all prescription medications locked up. Get rid of prescription pills or liquids, like cough syrup, that you no longer need.


Teen drug use is by no means rampant at Foothill or in Pleasanton, but “we realize there’s a problem here at Foothill,” Vranesh said. “We’re very frank about it. It’s all about choices. You need to be close in talking with your kids.”


Parents are often the first to notice drug use among teens and, thus, are encouraged to report it to the school and police department, Knox said.


“Part of this boils down to partnerships,” he said. “Pick up the phone and call us. The way we keep (drug abuse) under control is by you calling us.”


It’s due partly to parent complaints that police and Foothill administration stepped up patrols at the park immediately behind the school. The park had become a known haven for drug deals and drug abuse, but routine patrols have nearly eliminated the problem.


In addition, teachers are urged to be more aware of how students are acting and to report any suspicious behaviors, Principal John Dwyer said. School administration must meet the burden of “reasonable suspicion” to search a student’s backpack or person. That’s a lower standard than the “probable cause” required before police can search a student.


“The priority is to keep kids safe,” Dwyer said. “Our emphasis is on those kids who are at risk.”


Knox urged parents to “not give your child exclusive rights to privacy in their bedroom. If you do, you have your head in the sand.”


A great ploy for checking a teen’s bedroom is to do the laundry and go into the room to put it away, Knox said. Take a look around while you’re in there.


Another tip is “you should always be up when your kids come home at night,” Knox said. “Smell their clothes and their fingers. Check their eyes to see if they’re red.”


“Awareness equals education,” Knox said. “We have to trust our sixth sense. We’re trying to be educated about the drug problem. We’re talking about it more. We’re addressing it more.”


Knox recommended the websites and as good sources for the latest information on popular drugs and the slang terms used to identify them.

Posted Monday, Feb. 28, 2011