Kids on Drugs 

Kids on Drugs 
Posted by FoM on May 28, 2000 at 09:58:50 PT
By Anna Gorman, Times Staff Writer
Source: Los Angeles Times
 The craving begins as soon as they wake up from a fitful night's sleep. They need something just to get out of bed. The desire shoots through their bodies. All they want is to take another hit, to get their first fix of the morning. Again and again, the teens swear off the speed, the heroin, the coke, the acid. But the day after being released from Juvenile Hall, they call a dealer. 
  The night after leaving a rehab hospital, they reach for the needle. On their way home from a support group meeting, they pull out the pipe.   The debate is an old one: Do they relapse because they aren't ready to abandon their addiction? Or is it because the help isn't intensive enough for them to escape the lure of drugs?   The high estimate from teens and parents is that half of Ventura County's youths use illegal drugs. The low estimate from the county's top drug official is 10%.   But even that conservative estimate means nearly 10,000 Ventura County teens are drug users. And many of those--1,000 or so--require serious treatment for full-blown addictions to drugs and alcohol.   If they don't receive that help, counselors say, it can lead to jail or death.   Just last week the county recorded a particularly tragic and dramatic example of that, when a high school student was killed by a freight train in Moorpark.   Friends said 16-year-old Drew Diederich was apparently high on LSD when he ran from police onto the railroad tracks, where he stood until the train came. Earlier that night Drew had attended a drug rehab meeting, counselors say.   "With tragedy after tragedy, we just sort of shrug our shoulders and wish it could be different," said Ginny Connell, executive director of the Palmer Drug Abuse Program, which is contracted by the county to treat teen drug users.   "The reality is . . . there aren't enough of us out there and we aren't able to get to these kids soon enough."   Connell said she doesn't know what it's going to take to get county leaders to address this treatment gap for teen addicts and increase funding for rehab programs.   Parents and counselors say the lack of services to treat adolescents with substance abuse problems in Ventura County is appalling.   The county last year served 311 youths in drug and alcohol programs. Officials say three times that number needed help.   Most shocking is that the county only provides six beds for drug-addicted teens in the entire county--all of them in one small Santa Paula program for girls.   Other resources are equally scarce throughout the community, parents say. There are few 12-step meetings geared toward teens. And there aren't enough drug counselors at schools.   The county spends about $185,000 a year on drug programs for youths, while the county's top drug official says he needs $1 million. And while adolescents make up 10% of the clientele for drug and alcohol programs, they receive only 2% of the money.   Luis Tovar, who oversees all the county alcohol and drug programs in Ventura County, recently applied for a $500,000 federal grant to expand drug and alcohol services for local teens. He expects to hear next month whether the county will receive the money.   "We are so woefully underfunded," Tovar said. "And because of funding, we're handicapped. It's extremely difficult to be able to provide for adolescents."   Teens, Poll Cite Higher Drug Use by Youths:   Ventura County teens say the number of drug users is much higher than county officials estimate.   In a 1995 Los Angeles Times Poll of 460 Ventura County teenagers, 36% said at least half of their classmates regularly used illegal drugs.   Last fall the Simi Valley Youth Council, a student group that advises the City Council on youth issues, conducted a survey of 377 high school students. Of those, 46% said they had used illegal drugs.   And statewide, 53% of high school juniors said they had used drugs at least once, according to a 1997-98 study by the California Department of Justice. Nearly 49% said they had used drugs in the past six months, up from 38% earlier in the decade.   Although the use of marijuana and alcohol has leveled off around California, methamphetamine and inhalants are becoming more popular among teenagers, the study showed. And the drugs are pervasive. Name the drug, teens say, and you can find it just about anywhere in the county.   "It's everywhere," said Tracy, 16, who began smoking pot as a Simi Valley middle school student before graduating to acid and ecstasy. "Every kid probably knows someone or that person knows someone who can get it for them. It's easy."   No area of Ventura County is immune. Students of every race, ethnicity and socioeconomic level struggle with substance abuse issues. In the more affluent cities of Moorpark and Thousand Oaks, just as in south Oxnard or along Ventura Avenue, teens are stealing from their parents and spending their weekly allowances on drugs. Drug dealing is a fact of life on middle school and high school campuses. Sixteen-year-old Parker Mitchell's story is disturbingly common.   The Simi Valley student, who has a tongue ring and wears bright magenta lipstick, smoked her first cigarette when she was 9. For the next two years, she says, she drank alcohol and smoked pot regularly. When she turned 11, she began snorting cocaine, and quickly became addicted. Meanwhile, she was popping pills, getting high constantly and smoking about two packs of cigarettes a day.   "I was way into it," she said. "I did every kind of drug I could get my hands on."   She maintained her straight-A average in elementary school, but then got her first F in the seventh grade. She said to make herself feel better, she got drunk. She dropped out of school in the eighth grade.   Drugs were not Parker's only worry. Her father was abusive, she said. She was also diagnosed at 12 as a manic-depressive with obsessive compulsive disorder. She tried to kill herself when she was 13. She stole all the time and ran away from home three times, she adds. She did heroin, speed, acid, ecstasy and crack.   At 14, however, the drugs stopped working. Parker got fed up with being an addict, so she decided to get clean. It hasn't been easy. Two hospital visits for detox and treatment. Three relapses. A week in the county's only residential treatment center. Hundreds of support group meetings.   Now, Parker has been clean and sober for nearly three months. She is getting As and Bs in school, and tries to inspire other teens to give up drugs. At a recent support group meeting, Parker told a friend she was proud of her for reaching 30 days clean.   "You know what you did?" she asked. "You saved your life."   Some of Ventura County's teen drug users come from upper middle-income families with few visible problems, but most are children of alcoholics or addicts. They come from broken and abusive homes. Their parents are in prison. They suffer from depression and anxiety.   At a recent support group meeting in Oxnard, a counselor asked the teens to raise their hands if a family member used drugs. All seven teens, seated in a circle, reluctantly put their hands in the air.   "If they don't use, they aren't part of the family," said Barry Boatman, who heads Children's Alcohol Rehabilitation and Education, which serves 24 foster teens at residential centers. "If mom and dad are using and selling, and the kid stops, they are out of the loop. They don't fit into the family."   In many cases, drug problems escalate because of parental leniency. Parents look the other way when their kids use alcohol or marijuana, said Cynthia Kravets, an alcohol and drug specialist with the county.   "But when they start using meth, LSD or heroin, the parents freak out," she said.   Many teens don't view marijuana as dangerous either. In probation interviews, teens often say, "I don't do drugs. I just smoke bud [marijuana]." But that is often seen by counselors as a gateway drug, leading them quickly and dangerously toward harder substances.   Among the younger users, inhalants are becoming increasingly common, local educators find. The youths sniff aerosol computer cleaner sprays, paint thinners and nitrous oxide, looking for a quick, cheap high. But the inhalants cause blackouts and neurological damage. And a single, overwhelming sniff, known as a huff by users, can be fatal.   Among wealthy teens, heroin is the new drug of choice, counselors and doctors say. Heroin is now cheaper and more potent then ever, turning more and more middle- and upper-income youths into hard-core addicts. Ecstasy and meth are also becoming more popular. For under $10, kids can get a spoon of heroin to keep them high for three hours, or a hit of speed that will keep them high for 10 hours. Acid costs about $5 per dose.   Principals Report Drug-Free Campuses:   Teens who use drugs inevitably fall behind in school. They aren't motivated to work. They cut classes to use. They get caught using or selling and get expelled. Or they drop out, and their lives revolve around drugs.   And many school principals do their best to look the other way.   Nationwide, 80% of high school principals say their campuses are drug free. In contrast, 78% of students say there are drugs on campus, according to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.   "It's a problem in every school, public and private," said Eddie Zager, a substance abuse counselor at Apollo High School in Simi Valley. "When they don't put programs in place, they are not admitting that there's a problem. And if there's not a problem, they don't have to deal with it."   The state Department of Justice has found 31% of high school juniors and 20% of freshmen have attended school either drunk or loaded at least once. Students tell stories of sneaking drugs into school, passing drugs to each other in classrooms, buying and selling drugs in cars and school restrooms, smoking marijuana on campus at lunchtime.   Meanwhile, though denying drug use on most campuses, school officials across the state spend millions of dollars on prevention programs to deter students from using drugs in the broader society.   A Rand study released a year ago said the school-based drug prevention programs are worth the cost but have produced only modest results. The study estimated the best of anti-drug prevention efforts will curtail a student's drug use by an average of 8% over his or her lifetime.   One of the most common school prevention programs is DARE, Drug Abuse Resistance Education, which focuses on teaching students how to say no to drugs through weekly lessons by police officers.   DARE officers work with schools in several local cities, including Simi Valley, Thousand Oaks and Ojai. But some students and teachers say no amount of classroom lectures will ever put a significant dent in drug use.   Parker, the 16-year-old recovering addict, said DARE didn't help her at all.   "I graduated from DARE with flying colors," she said. "I was stoned at my DARE graduation."   Now, some schools are trying a different tack. Some campuses are focusing on treatment by offering a range of counseling and support groups at school. Other districts are hiring on-campus police officers and drug-sniffing dogs to deter students from bringing drugs to school.   "Have we gotten everything? Probably not. Are we proactive? Yes," said Jo-Ann Yoos, principal at Thousand Oaks High School.   In Ventura County, about four out of every 1,000 students possessed, sold or used drugs or alcohol at school during the 1998-99 school year, according to an annual report by the California Department of Education.   "There's always going to be drugs on campus," said Sheriff's Deputy Julie Smith, who works at Moorpark schools. "Just because we have a school resource officer there doesn't mean your child is going to stay off drugs."   In 1999, Ventura County sheriff's deputies arrested 286 juveniles on suspicion of having or selling illegal drugs. That number is down from 367 five years ago. But police officers and prosecutors say the teens are also committing a host of other crimes: petty theft, burglary, check forging and tagging.   Superior Court Judge Brian Back, who presides over Juvenile Court, said drugs are involved in 19 of his 20 cases.   "It's just overwhelming," he said. "If we didn't have substance abuse issues with these kids, we almost wouldn't need a Juvenile Court."   Chris Weidenheimer, division chief of Ventura County Juvenile Hall, said 90% of the teenage inmates have substance abuse issues. Of those, 5% to 10% are hard-core users, she said. When new inmates are admitted, Weidenheimer's staff members routinely find pills in the inmates' pockets and baggies of white powder in their underclothes.   County-Funded Effort Provides Inpatient Care:   The one county-funded program in Ventura County that provides inpatient care for teenagers is the six-bed Rainbow Recovery Youth Center in Santa Paula, a house nestled in an orange grove.   During their four-month stays, the girls are busy from 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. most days with exercise, school, housework and meetings. Every week they attend five support sessions in the living room and six rehab meetings in the community.   Although Rainbow's focus is drug rehabilitation, the girls also spend time developing their self-esteem and learning how to replace drug use with other activities.   There are also two psychiatric hospitals in the county--Vista del Mar and Anacapa by the Sea--that provide inpatient drug rehabilitation. Because of the cost, the hospital slots are often filled by teens whose parents have insurance.   In response to the obvious need for more residential treatment services, Leonard and Debbie Goldberg founded a nonprofit organization in 1994 to raise funds for teens whose family insurance does not cover drug treatment.   Now the Westlake Village couple are trying to open a 30-bed treatment center for teens in Ventura County that would include detox, rehab and schooling.   The Goldbergs learned from first-hand experience that drug treatment in Ventura County is slim for teens not in the juvenile justice system. Their daughter used drugs heavily when she was a teenager, they said.   Most of the county's programs are outpatient and target youths in the juvenile justice system. Juvenile Drug Court, which began last summer, allows juvenile offenders to avoid jail time if they agree to an intensive outpatient drug program.   There are three county-run outpatient programs, in Simi Valley, Oxnard and Ventura. The teens attend weekly group sessions and monthly individual counseling sessions, and are sometimes subject to random drug testing as a part of their probation.   The county also contracts with private programs such as ACTION and Palmer Drug Abuse Program to provide outpatient treatment. If the child is court-referred, the county pays. If the child is a voluntary client, the parents pay. But both programs also offer free services if a family can't afford treatment.   ACTION runs weekly support groups throughout Ventura County, and offers drug testing, a 24-hour hotline, drug counselors in the schools and an emergency crisis team. In the Palmer Drug Abuse Program, teens attend group and individual meetings and work through a 12-step program.   During a recent Palmer program meeting in Camarillo, about three dozen youths lounged on couches. Above them, several names decorated the "wall of recovery." As they took turns talking about their lives or feelings, a few cried. Others held hands.   Cali, 15, a flippant teen who has tried ecstasy, acid, coke and heroin, said she had been clean for two days.   "Two days is like a long time," she said. "I don't even know if I want to be clean." She bragged about her 4.0 grade-point average, but said she knows the drugs will catch up with her if she starts using again.   Angela, 18, with a weary expression and a baby boy, told the group she has been clean for about a year. Although she missed the money she made selling drugs, she said she is glad to be thinking clearly again.   "It's been a real hard road," she said. "I put a lot of things in jeopardy, including my son. Everything is falling into place."   Parents and counselors agree residential centers are the biggest need in the county. But they also say schools need to help students overcome their addictions, and that there is a need for more teen 12-step groups.   Rigo, 17, who now attends teen meetings regularly to deal with his drug problem, said that during his early days of recovery he dreaded going to groups where most of the addicts were adults.   "I felt weird," he said. "I felt like I didn't belong. I was with a bunch of 40-year-old heroin addicts."   Some say that even with the most extensive rehab and treatment, teen drug addicts need to hit rock bottom before they are ready for treatment. But that isn't easy for most young people, who, unlike older addicts, rarely risk losing their jobs, marriages or children.   For some teens, losing their stereo or television might be enough of a bottom. For others, it could be expulsion from school or time in Juvenile Hall. The most serious addicts may have to overdose or see a friend die before they decide to stop using drugs.   And, sometimes, even that isn't enough.   "It's hard for kids to bottom out, because they think they are invincible," said Weidenheimer of Juvenile Hall. "When they do bottom out, they are dead. Then it's too late."   And to truly give up drugs, teens in nearly every instance need family support, a new set of friends and healthy activities. Zager tells the youths they only have to change one thing--everything. Playmates, playthings and playgrounds.   "I tell them, 'If you hang around in a barbershop, you're gonna get a haircut,' " he said. "It's the same thing with drugs. They need to change their friends."   At a recent ACTION meeting at Simi Valley's Apollo High School, parents went to one room and read aloud a list of parents' rights. You have the right to a drug-free home. You have the right to change your mind. You have the right to determine who may enter your home.   In another room, Zager led the teens in a conversation on the challenges of staying clean. Recovery, he said, is more than just putting down the pipe. It's a change in attitude.   Amie Swain, 16, knows that well.   After two years of doing pot, ecstasy and acid, Amie stopped doing drugs. But after 65 days clean, she almost lost it all. Her purse was stolen, along with her sobriety chips. She put the pipe in her mouth and had a lighter in her hand before changing her mind.   "Then I realized what I was doing," said the red-haired teen with a wide smile. "I think I've come a long way. I believe that I'm an addict, but I'm gonna stay clean. I'm really strong. I can do it." Published: Sunday, May 28, 2000 Copyright 2000 Los Angeles Times Related Articles: Struggle for Parents Is Often Painful Kids' Drug Of Choice View Next 20 Articles: Articles On Drug Treatment: 
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