More than just meth

Experts warn parents to be vigilant about alcohol, pills

As community members unite to take on the area's growing methamphetamine problem, they've been warned to not ignore the growing problem of teen drinking and abuse of over-the-counter or prescription drugs.

"It's really great, all the focus on meth, but it's my hope that interest in alcohol and other drug-use problems doesn't fade," said Marie Peer, director of the Moffat County Department of Social Services.

Craig psychotherapist Gary Gurney reports that teens' desires to experiment haven't changed in generations, but the drugs they have access to has.

"The combination of popping pills and drinking hard alcohol, that's the trend we're starting to see," he said. "Kids aren't different. What's available to them is."

Weeks ago, a Colorado Mountain College student died from alcohol poisoning and recent occurrences of the same overdose-related fatalities have been reported at Colorado State University and the University of Colorado.

Gurney's concern is that more and more teens are choosing to drink hard alcohol and that they do it in binges, with an intent to "go out and get wasted."

And in some cases, they're combining hard alcohol with excessive amounts of cold medicine, prescription anti-depressants and Ritalin.

"The influence nowadays of prescription medication is growing, and kids are getting their hands on them."

There are cases, said Gina Golden, program manager at Craig Mental Health, of students giving away their prescriptions or taking them from their parents.

"It's appalling, but unfortunately not uncommon," she said. "Kids claim if you take enough, you get a buzz."

Craig Police Department Sgt. Bill Leonard said that although it's not common for police to be called to schools because of prescription drug or alcohol abuse, it's not unheard of, either.

On Friday, police responded to a call when a 15-year-old arrived at school under the influence of alcohol. Last week, a teen allegedly threw a bottle through the window of a liquor store, stole a bottle of alcohol and drank it on-site.

On Thursday morning, police encountered a female juvenile who was driving under the influence of alcohol.

Leonard said this week has been atypical and hopes it doesn't indicate a trend.

Moffat County High School Principal Jane Krogman said reports of students showing altered behavior because of drug or alcohol use are fairly low and consistent with past years.

She estimates the school handles about 10 incidents a year involving alcohol possession or alcohol or drug use.

"Kids talk about sneaking alcohol into school," Golden said.

Krogman said school officials generally can see when a student has been drinking alcohol, but drug use is more difficult to detect. Changes in a student's behavior are generally the best indicator, she said.

In a case where a teacher feels a student is under the influence, he or she will contact the school nurse or an administrator. That teen is taken to the nurse's office where he or she is screened for drug or alcohol use and parents are contacted.

Krogman agrees community members and officials shouldn't ignore the problem.

"We cannot turn a blind eye to other drugs simply because we have meth, which is horrendous, but these other things can be gateways to meth use," she said.

Gurney thinks that education is one step to combating the problem.

"I've had a college student say, 'It's a prescription drug so it's got to be safer,'" he said. "I definitely think education is part of it, but we need ongoing education."

He thinks students should be educated about the dangers of drug and alcohol use in the seventh grade, and the education should continue through high school.

High school health class students will get a taste of that next week. Grand Futures Prevention Coalition has purchased a drug education program that's had great success in colleges. Among other things, the interactive program will teach students how to calculate their blood-alcohol levels to learn their "drop dead" point. Student input personal information and then can experiment by changing the number of drinks, frequency and type of alcohol to see what effect each scenario will have on them.

Golden said teens have a variety of reasons for overindulging, including peer pressure, self-esteem issues and boredom.

"Most of the time you see teens self-medicate because they're dealing with depression, stress or problems at home or at school," she said. "If a kid has a predisposition to use any substance to make themselves feel better, they're more apt to move on to harder substances."

Christina M. Currie can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 210, or ccurrie@craigdailypress.com.

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