By Ann Needle
The Underage Substance Abuse Forum at Nashoba Regional High School last Wednesday was timely, given the drug-related emergency at a post-prom party last month. The over 100 Nashoba parents, administrators, and staff attending seemed focused on not only recognizing the signs of substance abuse, but in wanting to know what the high school is doing to keep drugs off its campus.
Sponsored by the Middlesex County Partnership for Youth, the forum was originally scheduled for May 12, but was postponed suddenly due to an emergency for its scheduled speaker, a state police officer. Last Wednesday, the officer reported he has focused on gang-related activity for more than 15 years. (Given the undercover nature of his work, the officer is not named.)
In Bolton, and across the state, the officer noted that alcohol use has declined among high schoolers, “But the problem is they’ve replaced it with drugs.” While drugs certainly are found in Bolton, he asserted that it is a much bigger problem elsewhere in the state.
However, the officer said, the danger from some drugs keeps rising everywhere, given dealers are selling more pure drugs, not mixed with anything. He noted that, with today’s heroin being at a very high level of purity, at 40 percent to 60 percent, there were 12 deaths in Worcester last summer.
Heroin remains popular, along with prescription medications such as OxyContin, he said. The connection: Prescription drug abusers tend to be well represented among heroin users. But marijuana is the most used drug among both the state’s high school and middle school students, the officer noted.
Pot is so popular that some stores openly sell “hides,” such as a supposed brand-name plastic water bottle that contains water above and below the label, but splits to reveal a hollow middle behind the label to conceal drugs. A practice called “vaping” also is catching on, with pot ingested as a vapor that is almost odorless, he said.
Turning to a private Nashoba post-prom party held in Lancaster on May 17, where some teen guests became ill after ingesting pot-laced candies, the officer maintained of the candy, “This is something that’s been around a long, long time. It’s not a huge trend, it’s not something that’s state-wide.”
Questions on Prevention
Speaking about what the district and law enforcement are doing to keep drugs out of Nashoba, Bolton Police Chief Vincent Alfano reported that NRHS has conducted two unannounced K9 drug searches in the past year. The first, which was of the student parking lot, turned up a small amount of marijuana in one car, he said. The second search later in the year — this time, using 12 dogs and conducted in the building — he said, “Not one bit of anything was found, and it was a very thorough check. I get very upset when I hear ‘Oh, the school is hiding something.’ They are not.”
Alfano noted that alcohol, especially at sporting events, was the big substance issue at NRHS a decade ago. This gradually disappeared after posting plain-clothes officers at each big game, he said. Alfano concluded that most drinking and drug use by teens is taking place in private homes.
Heroin has become the most prominant drug in Bolton, with Alfano maintaining that almost 100% of house breaks in town are related to the drug. Alfano remarked that this frightens him, as heroin is among the most addictive and deadly of drugs. “I have never met a recovering heroin addict — never,”he said.
However, Bolton has made progress in at least keeping many dealers out of town, according to Alfano. Bolton Police’s frequent road patrols and traffic stops have turned up so many drug dealers that the officer giving the earlier presentation remarked that he has heard dealers try to avoid Route 117 whenever possible.
But a parent identifying herself as the mother of a son who graduated from NRHS three years ago rebutted, “We DO have a drug problem here. My son told me, ‘Mom, any drug I wanted I got from this school.’” She noted that her son is currently in rehab. She urged the audience to be aggressive about tracking down any drugs teens are hiding, advising them to go through children’s dresser drawers in the search, and conducting at-home drug tests, if needed. “Don’t be afraid; it’s your house.”
NRHS Principal Dr. Parry Graham focused his remarks on what the high school can reasonably do in wiping out student drug use. With the Lancaster post-prom party drug users, he noted that NRHS followed the sanctions called for by the school’s chemical health policy, such as banning the athletes from some games. However, he stressed that these sanctions were not announced.
“I want to maintain the dignity of each student,” Graham said. “We know teenagers do bone-headed things.”
And, there are the things the high school cannot control. Pointing to the 2014 Emerson Hospital Youth Risk Behavior Survey of students from Nashoba and surrounding districts, Graham remarked that one-third of the NRHS seniors reported going to a party in the last year where parents allow teens to drink. “That scares the hell out of me.”
Alfano agreed that blocking student access to drugs centers on parents. “You don’t know how many calls we got after that ‘gummy bear incident’ from parents who said, ‘oh, my kid told us who the dealer was 3 weeks ago.’ My question is, who did you tell? You need to tell us.”