Community Pushes Back Against Heroin, Prescription Drug Abuse
Possible meeting in the Francis Howell School District would brief parents as well as students about heroin and other drug abuse issues.
Fearing a flow of heroin into St. Charles County schools, local authorities are planning another town hall meeting on the subject.
Heroin use has mushroomed in the county because the drug is now cheap and available and more young people seem to be using it.
The local concern culminated last month at a Feb. 21 town hall meeting at Holt High School in Wentzville. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse (NCADA) helped organize that meeting and is seeking to hold another one in the county.
Dan Duncan, director of community services for NCADA St. Louis area office, said Monday that he’s discussing the idea with the Francis Howell School District. District officials said Tuesday that they want to schedule a meeting.
Jennifer Patterson, director of student services for the Francis Howell School District, said the district would like to hold a meeting during the first week of May. But they are still working on a specific location, date and other details.
Patterson said the focus on the meeting may be as much on prescription drug abuse as much as heroin. Nearly half of younger adults using heroin abuse prescription pain killers first—often taken from family medicine chests—and move on to more serious drugs, Duncan said.
“What we feel about these town hall meetings is that we have to get the parents to come,” Duncan said. Parental involvement is a key in combating drug abuse, he said.
The Wentzville meeting was open to parents and children. Other organizers included the Wentzville Police Department and local law enforcement agencies. Eight or nine similar meetings have been held in St. Louis County.
St. Charles County Sheriff Tom Neer said he’d like to see more meetings. Some school districts may be reluctant because holding a forum may suggest a drug problem that may not exist, he said.
Trend Toward Younger Users
But Neer and other authorities worry about trends showing heroin users getting younger. Dr. Mary Case, chief medical examiner for St. Louis, St. Charles, Jefferson and Franklin, said Monday that she’s seeing overdose victims in their 20s and younger. And they’re coming from all over the St. Louis area.
The more than 200 overdose deaths in 2010 in the St. Louis area included 22 persons in St. Charles County, according to Case’s office.
“It’s not an inner city-based, it’s in the suburbs and it’s very heavy in St. Charles County, very heavy,” Case said.
The demographics of users have changed, Neer said. “People thought it was used by someone who was a back alley junkie,” he said. “The users now come from all walks of life and all ethnic groups.”
“It tends to be among people in their 20s,” said Capt. Chris DiGiuseppi, assistant chief for the Lake Saint Louis Police Department—city of prosperous homes on lakefront property. “We have seen it.
Authorities Worry that Heroin May Get Into Schools
Neer and authorities worry that the availability and cheapness of the drug will find its way into schools. Area school district officials say so far they haven’t seen a major heroin problem.
“We haven’t seen it but we would be naïve to say that some of our students might not be using it,” Patterson said.
“As far a heroin, we’ve not seen it,” said Randal Charles, superintendent of the St. Charles School District. “It tends to be marijuana and synthetics, and there is always alcohol.” Prescription drug abuse also occurs.
Drug abuse in general is not rampant. “It tends to go in spurts,” Charles said.
Out of a district enrollment of 5000 students, there may be 25 to 30 student suspensions for substance abuse, he said. Officials are seeing students abusing drugs as early as the seventh and eight grades, he said.
“But we know it (heroin) is out there,” Charles said.
Prevention Efforts Continue
In February, parents of children who have died of heroin abuse, Marilyn Smashey and Pam Jones, and a representative from the St. Charles County Regional Drug Task Force spoke at assemblies for St Charles and St. Charles West high schools about the dangers of heroin.
A similar assembly is planned for March 29 at Orchard Farm High School, the only high school in the Orchard Farm School District.
Brian Smith, the principal at the high school, said even though there isn’t a heroin problem it something young people have to confront.
Patterson said Francis Howell student leaders will attend the Orchard Farm meeting. With testing, it may be too late this school year to hold a similar event but next year is a possibility, she said.
The Wentzville and Fort Zumwalt school districts don’t have specific seminars or programs on heroin set for now.
Bernard DuBray, superintendent of the Fort Zumwalt School District, said Rick Zerr, presiding and family court administrator for the 11th Judicial Circuit Court in St. Charles, has spoken about similar issues at four parents coffees held at schools.
DuBray said district officials have seen more marijuana use. “That’s not to say it's not there,” DuBray said.
Meanwhile, Neer and other law enforcement officials say they continue to try to reach students through school resource officers assigned to schools and even elementary school students through DARE programs.
Wentzville Police Chief Lisa Harrison said her city is promoting its “test my teen” drug prevention program.
The program allows parents to download a voucher for one free, home drug-test kit through the city’s website. Parents pay $6.95 for shipping and the results are confidential to the family. Parents can also visit the program's website at www.testmyteen.com for more information.
Harrison said the test results are accurate. Along with helping parents monitor their children, the kits give teens a way to limit peer pressure that may urge them to experiment with drugs and alcohol.
Neer said he’s looking into the idea to see if the county might expand the program if it can afford the testing.