Washington County forums take aim at teen drug use

To better inform parents, teens and educators about drug use in schools, Washington County has partnered with Know the Truth, a substance abuse prevention program, to present a series of community workshops called “United We Stand.”

Two such workshops have been held so far. The latest was held at Stillwater Area High School Dec. 16. And while the event drew about 60 to 70 people, organizers hope the workshops will draw more in 2015.

There is no question drugs are present and available to kids. Washington County Deputy Sheriff Cmdr. Brian Mueller said there has been a 250-percent increase in methamphetamine seizures in Minnesota over the past five years, and a 700-percent increase in marijuana seizures statewide during that time.

Perhaps most alarming, though, is that in 2013, for the first time ever, there were more deaths due to drug overdoses than there were due to car crashes.

Washington County Sheriff Bill Hutton reinforced those numbers. In 2012, he said there were nine opiate-related deaths in the county. In 2013, that number climbed to 16; and through November 2014, there have been 15 opiate-related deaths in Washington County.

“The message about drug overdoses needs to be increased, so that’s what we’re going to do,” Mueller said.

Know the Truth

Adam Pederson is a prevention specialist with the Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge, which runs a teen-specific program called Know the Truth that brings substance abuse prevention into high schools and middle schools.

Know the Truth started to develop its partnership program about a year and a half ago, Pederson said. Washington County got on board last February, Pederson said. It took a few months to line up all of the speakers — besides the sheriff’s staff, Washington County Attorney Pete Orput spoke, as did two 24-year-old recovering addicts and a mother whose son died from a heroin overdose last summer — but the motivation to provide the information was always present.

“Because people are overdosing and dying, we know there is a need for this type of forum,” Pederson said. “The heartbeat of our program, that personal experience (from the mother and the recovering addicts), we knew we needed that to really connect with our audience.

“Our point of why we open up and why we talk about this stuff is so they know they are not alone,” Pederson said.

In the schools

In a Know the Truth-sponsored survey of Washington County 10th-graders, 38 percent of those who responded indicated they had used illegal drugs, Pederson said. Of that group, 96 percent said they had used marijuana, 32 percent reported using prescription pills, 20 percent had used Ecstacy/hallucinogens, 8 percent said they had used synthetics and 1 percent said they had used heroin.

Participation in the survey was voluntary, Pederson said, but it was telling because it showed a drug presence in all of Washington County’s high schools.

Washington County Drug Task Force Sgt. Mike Benson participates in the United We Stand forum so he can talk about where those statistics start. Often, he said, they begin at home with prescription medications.

What happens, Benson said, is that kids either hear about the “high” from peers or the Internet, or they like the experience they had when using a drug for health reasons. They like how they feel, so they take more.

The cycle can escalate, though, as some prescription medications are addictive. That leads a teen to seek out old prescriptions from parents or grandparents. And when those run out, they may turn to buying from dealers at school, or becoming dealers themselves. It can mean big money, too — the going rate, Benson said, is $8 to $10 per milligram of many of the substances out there.

Acid has also become a current trend in high schools, Benson said. While acid used to describe the drug LSD, it now refers to a number of substances in the NBOME family. The newest drug, the 25i-NBOME, is synthesized from another research chemical. It’s also quite dangerous.

“We had a death from the 25i-NBOME earlier in the year,” Benson said. “It’s debilitating. It really messes them up, because it literally turns them into zombies. They just look off into space. It’s creepy stuff.”

Spreading the message

Know the Truth developed the community forums because, in part, many parents think their kids would never be the kids to get involved in drugs. But drug addiction can happen to any family, Pederson said.

And it does happen to the whole family, and not just the student involved, he added.

“For so many people, this isn’t an issue for them unless it’s an issue for them. Unless they’ve had someone overdose and die. So our message is, OK, let us equip you to make sure it isn’t going to be your kid. No one wants it to be their kid. No one thinks it’s going to be their kid. But you can’t think it’s never going to happen to us.

“The people who don’t think they need it, they’re the ones who really do need it,” Pederson added.

The Washington County United We Stand series will continue into 2015. The goal, Mueller said, is to present the forum at all of the school districts in Washington County before the end of the 2014-15 school year. Pederson hopes to bring the series to the Woodbury/Cottage Grove area by early spring.

Benson wants to see more people in the audiences.

“I am hoping to fill the room with parents,” he said. “I want to say, ‘This is what we see in investigations. This is what we’re seeing in the schools. Mom and Dad, don’t just assume your kids aren’t involved.’”