Teens and Drugs, Kids Just Say Yes

Teens and Drugs, Kids Just Say Yes
Posted by FoM on September 19, 1999 at 07:49:27 PT
By Kim Hone-McMahan
Source: Akron Beacon Journal
Megan slept with an orange plastic milk crate handcuffed to her wrist. On the side of the two-pound container was the plea, ``CALL POLICE.''
Megan's parents were desperate when they wrote that message on the crate. For more than two years, they had taken other drastic steps to keep their daughter away from drugs. But nothing seemed to work.Night after night, the 14-year-old beauty loosened the nails holding her bedroom window shut and wiggled through the opening. With no sense of the danger she put herself in, Megan searched the streets for a party and a way to get stoned.Megan (not her real name) is among the growing number of youngsters who have been arrested for drug offenses in the last several years in Summit County.Last year, nearly 1,300 drug charges were filed against juveniles in the county, the most in two decades. So far this year, the pace has slowed. Still, Summit County youths racked up 774 drug charges in the first eight months of 1999. At that pace, the county is on track to see 1,161 charges in 1999.In addition to teens having more money and easier access to drugs, court officials say the recent slew of charges is partly the result of heightened efforts by area police departments to address the teen drug problem. At the same time, with some teens' baby-boomer parents themselves using marijuana, the drug has gained a measure of social acceptability.Children like Megan who wind up in the Summit County Juvenile Detention Center on Dan Street in north Akron face a variety of charges. No matter which offense lands them inside the brown brick fortress -- theft, assault or truancy -- drugs and alcohol are generally at the root of their troubles.``I would say that 80 to 90 percent of my kids on probation are involved in drugs or alcohol,'' said Summit County probation officer Martha Jeffries.High rates of drug and alcohol use are generally common among youngsters who frequent Dan Street. But even teens who have never seen the inside of juvenile court are getting their kicks by experimenting with pot and booze.Court officials estimate that at least 75 percent of area teens get a taste of alcohol before graduating from high school.And when it comes to drugs, particularly marijuana, Jeffries and Summit County Juvenile Drug Court Administrator Jason Hale surmise that 50 percent experiment before finishing school.Juvenile Court Judge Judith L. Hunter said the numbers should serve as a wake-up call.``That figure is alarming,'' Hunter said. ``And all parents should pay attention -- not only to this statistic, but to how their child may be affected by it.''Hunter and Jan Mengel, adolescent program coordinator of the Akron Health Department's Inside/Out Program, say it is vitally important to conquer drug abuse in children before they become addicted.``Once a child is addicted, then their social skills and other development does not take place, and they're at a standstill,'' Hunter said.Mengel said that when adults have an alcohol or drug problem, they can move from the early stage of abuse to the late stage of chronic dependency in five to 15 years.``In an adolescent, because of their brain and body chemistry, that same process can take five to 15 months,'' he said. ``And in a pre-adolescent, that same process can take five to 15 weeks.''So concerned were Summit County Juvenile Court officials about the drug and alcohol problem among area teens that they opened a Juvenile Drug Court in July. Currently, about 25 of the area's worst teen-age offenders are enrolled in the program.Parents and guardians are required to accompany their children to court. Officials say the idea is to hold adults more accountable for their children's actions, as well as their success or failure in the program. Adults who fail to attend can be found in contempt of court, fined or even jailed.Since drug court began, one parent has been jailed for growing marijuana. Another was ordered by Magistrate John E. Mumper to take a drug test to determine whether she, like her child, was a drug user. Luckily for the mother, the test came back negative.While drug court can mean trouble for some parents, Mumper said others are empowered by the program.``A lot of parents are trying to do the right thing, but they can't get their kid to cooperate,'' he said. ``Now, household rules become . . . court orders.''Young drug court participants are ordered to, among other things, follow home rules, read books, get jobs, maintain curfews and stay away from peers who are bad influences.Those who break the rules may find themselves under house arrest or, worse, locked up in one of the Juvenile Detention Center's 6-by-10-foot cells.Uphill battle for manyProbation officers face an uphill battle when trying to persuade some of their young clients to conquer their drug habits. Drugs, particularly marijuana, are as common in some families and social circles as cigarettes.``Many of our kids have parents who are alcoholics or drug addicts,'' Jeffries said. ``The kids grow up in homes where they see their parents smoking pot and doing drugs every day.''Amanda, 17, (whose name also has been changed here) admitted freely that she loves smoking marijuana. And, apparently, so do Mom and Dad.``They can't say anything because they do it, too. I can smell it,'' she said. ``I know it's wrong, but I don't look at them differently. That's their business.''Probation officer Karen Scheetz noted that Amanda's drug problem isn't likely to disappear.``With kids like her, you just beat your head against the wall,'' Scheetz said. ``In her whole world, it's socially acceptable. And nothing I say or do is going to make a difference. I'm just a crimp in her style.''While some parents do nothing to stop their children from using drugs, others, such as Megan's, have gone beyond the call of duty.``They have done everything they possibly could to keep her out of trouble without being abusive,'' probation officer Jeffries said.Megan has enjoyed a somewhat privileged childhood. Like her brother and sister, who excel in academics and sports, she once attended a private school.``She had the same advantages'' as her siblings, her mother said. ``She just made different choices.''Now 17, Megan is working to get her life on the right track by holding down a steady job. She has been off probation since March and, although she dropped out of public school, is planning to get her GED.``She's matured some,'' her mom said. ``No doubt she's probably smoking pot every now and then, but her outlook has improved. It's just not party night every night.''Although life is a bit easier now, Megan has put her parents through a living hell over the years.Few in detention``I would get stoned, not go to school, be missing a couple of days, get arrested. It was never-ending.''Arrested for everything from trafficking in drugs to assault, she has an extensive rap sheet. Worried about their daughter's stunts, Megan's parents took extreme measures to shield her from the dangers of drugs and the streets.Megan's father bought a $25 pair of Smith & Wesson handcuffs. At bedtime, her mother said, ``we handcuffed her to a plastic milk carton crate.''The parents reasoned that because the crate would keep Megan, who was then on house arrest, from putting on a coat, she would not try to sneak out during the night.``She could go anywhere, but it was inconvenient,'' Megan's father said. ``The whole deal was, it didn't matter what you did. I would nail the windows shut, but she still got out.''Of all the things her parents had tried to keep Megan housebound, the crate worked. But after two nights of unwillingly wearing the crate as a bracelet, Megan complained about it to a counselor at a hospital where she was going for rehabilitation for her drug problem.In short order, Megan's father was told to stop using the handcuffs.``Everything that poor guy did he got into trouble for,'' Jeffries said.Hours after tattling on her father, Megan slipped out of the house and into the night.Drugs of choiceWhile fewer than 5 percent of the youngsters at the Summit County Juvenile Detention Center are abusing dangerous drugs, such as cocaine or heroin, many are reaching for what is more readily available.Pot and alcohol are the main drugs of choice, Scheetz said, because they are the least expensive and are the easiest to get.Teens say schools are a good place to buy and sell dope and, sometimes, even a good place to smoke it.Megan said that at the high school she attended before being expelled for selling a prescription drug, students would smoke marijuana in study hall.They were able to do that by pretending they were resting their heads on their book bags or on the table, she said, then smoking right into their bags. The study hall was held in a large cafeteria, making it impossible for teachers to detect the smell, Megan said.While students at Megan's former school may be brazen, Amanda said she has never noticed anyone at her high school smoking pot, at least not during class.``They leave and say they're sick, go get high and then come back,'' Amanda said. ``I wouldn't do that in school. It's very disrespectful.''Doorway to addictionThe attraction to marijuana is widespread among children. A recent report released by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University shows that of the nearly 182,000 youngsters nationwide who entered drug or alcohol treatment programs in 1996 -- the latest year for which national numbers are available -- nearly half were admitted for abuse or addiction to marijuana.And in Ohio, marijuana was the drug of choice for nearly 60 percent of adolescents admitted to state-approved drug treatment programs, according to the Ohio Department of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services' 1998 annual report.Some youngsters are so sure that marijuana is harmless that they fail to see the dangers.Amanda said she routinely climbs into a car with friends who are high on pot -- including the driver.``We all put on our seat belts,'' she said, shrugging her shoulders. Besides, Amanda argued, the girl who is usually behind the wheel ``drives better when she's high.''While Amanda and youngsters like her often downplay the dangers of using pot, Mengel of the Akron Health Department warns that marijuana is more potent today than it was in the 1960s and '70s. Worse, he said, weed and alcohol can lead users into more serious trouble, including cocaine abuse.``I see it as a doorway to addiction,'' he said.That was the case with Megan, who smoked her first marijuana joint at age 13 and soon turned to acid and other drugs. At 15, she ran away from home to live with a 19-year-old drug dealer who kept her well supplied.The attraction quickly faded.After two weeks, Megan said, she was raped and tossed to the curb.Even though hard lessons like that one have clearly shortened Megan's childhood, she isn't one to dwell on the innocence lost to drug abuse.``I regret doing drugs and staying out all night,'' she said. ``But I can't turn back the clock.''Published Sunday, September 19, 1999Akron Beacon Journal
Home Comment Email Register Recent Comments Help

Post Comment

Name: Optional Password: 
Comment: [Please refrain from using profanity in your message]
Link URL: 
Link Title: