'Starting the conversation' about drugs in the community

CONWAY — Drugs are in our community and it will take a community effort to ensure our children are safe. That was the overriding message recently at the first Community Substance Abuse Prevention Night in the Loynd Auditorium at Kennett High School. The informative two-hour presentation attracted nearly 200 people including a large student population.

"I'm pleased with how the evening went," Neal Moylan, principal of Kennett High School, said. "I think this was a conversation our community needed to have. Hard-core drugs are finding their way into the valley. I want every child to feel and be safe and I want parents to know their children are safe. This is a community-wide issue."

The evening was sponsored jointly by Kennett High School and Memorial Hospital.

Moylan was thrilled by the level of local participation.

"We had great support from within the community," he said. "We have Memorial Hospital, the Conway Police Department and the Carroll County Coalition for Public Health all on board — we're all committed to the long run."

The evening's speakers spoke directly to the students and parents about what they are seeing in our community. Speakers included: school resource officer Richard Theberge, patrolman for Conway Police Department; Lt. Christopher Mattei and Det. Suzanne Scott, of Conway Police Department; vice orincipal Neal Weaver; director of guidance Jennifer Murphy; Dr. Matt Dunn, a Memorial Hospital ER physician; Dr. Brian Sponseller from Memorial Hospital; and Jennifer Selfridge, substance misuse prevention coordinator for the Carroll County Regional Public Health Network.

The presentation included over 100 slides with charts on different drugs and their use; college admissions if one has committed a felony; and even an inside look at evidence from a methamphetamine lab busted in Conway.

The night unfolded with a short video "Think Again," that had parents, school officials and law enforcement from Hampton, N.H. talking about drug use.

"It can happen to anyone, substance abuse does not discriminate," a parent said while Eddie Edwards, of the Hampton Police Department said he "sees more permissibility in adults" willing to let children try new things.

"Too often parents are intimidated by their children," Edwards later stated. "Kids need to know where boundaries are and what the consequences are."

Theberge, the school resource officer, spoke about the impact of drugs on school children. He said drugs can lead to an increase in truancy; a student's grades can suddenly fall; the student tends to have change in associations/friends; and there is a noticeable change in the mood or behavior of the child.

"The No. 1 sign that it's a problem is it creates an unsafe learning environment," Theberge said. "Drug use is a community problem, it's not only happening in schools, but in communities — to solve this problem we all have to work together collectively."

Theberge said you can actually Google how to hide your drugs in schools and a number of videos pop up. You can pop the deodorant stick out of its plastic container and store drugs in the bottom and then put the deodorant over it. Conway PD actually arrested a student in SAU 9 who had done this.

In terms of current drug trends in our schools, Theberge said tobacco use is No. 1 followed by marijuana, prescription pills; synthetic drugs such as ecstasy; and alcohol.

"Did you know that over half of all sexual assaults that occur in the United States involve alcohol to some degree?" Theberge asked. "When you add alcohol to the mix, the risks go up."

Students at Kennett High were asked to take a Youth Risk Behavior Survey, and 77 percent of those surveyed believe their parents set good role models.

Lt. Mattei and Det. Scott spoke about drug trends they've seen in Conway, party host laws, synthetic drugs, ETOH (ethanol alcohol). If you are an adult and throw a party and someone under the age of 21 is drinking at it, the party host is liable for the underage drinker's actions.

"There are a lot of underage drinking parties up here as we live in a tourist community," Mattei said.

Det. Scott said cocaine is in the Mount Washington Valley but is not the drug of choice.

"We do see cocaine but it's not as prevalent as heroin or methamphetamine," she said.

Methamphetamine is a synthetic (man-made) chemical, unlike cocaine, for instance, which comes from a plant. Meth is commonly manufactured in illegal, hidden laboratories, mixing various forms of amphetamine (another stimulant drug) or derivatives with other chemicals to boost its potency. Drain cleaner, lithium, acetone ad fertilizer are used in its making.

"If you have someone cooking meth, the chances are pretty good that the neighborhood could be exposed to a fire," Lt. Mattei explained.

With the expanded drug use, it's had an impact on other crimes such as burglary, Mattei said, explaining that people are no longer looking to steal electronics, they're looking for jewelry to pawn or prescription drugs.

Mattei said Mount Washington Valley has an influx of marijuana.

"Most sexual assaults," he said, "75-80 percent of those involve alcohol, and synonymous to that is marijuana use. Marijuana is the most common illicit drug used in the United States."

Scott and Mattei explained that marijuana has become far more potent over the past couple of decades. THC levels, which determine marijuana potency, were at 1 to 2 percent in the 1970s; 2 to 8 percent in the 1980s; and now are upwards of 28 percent.

"If you can grow a sunflower outside you can have a marijuana grow, it's very easy to do," Mattei said.

Dr. Matt Dunn, a 1991 Kennett High graduate, talked about the trends of drug use he is seeing in the emergency room. (LLOYD JONES PHOTO)Conway PD averages 90 to 100 drug arrests per year.

"People say our problem isn't getting bigger but that's not true," Mattei explained. "The problem is we've gone from marijuana arrests to methamphetamine and heroin. We're generally a year and a half behind the drug patterns in southern New Hampshire. Now in southern New Hampshire they're finding pill presses for heroin. We're seeing a lot more hard drugs now than a few years ago."

Vice principal Weaver said Kennett High is seeing an increase in drug sale/distribution; drug use; and drug possession.

"It's not just tobacco, but alcohol and other illegal substances," he said.

Weaver explained the potential consequences if a student is caught with drugs. They include out of school suspension; random drug screening/testing; expulsion from school; plus there are legal ramification separate from school requirements."

Weaver and other school officials noticed an increase in drug activity last year among the freshman class. That led to a ninth-grade assembly last June at the end of the school year to shed light on the problem.

Murphy, the director of guidance at Kennett High, talked about the impacts of drug suspensions from a future education standpoint. Those impacts include: the loss of scholarship money; denied admission into college; denial of federal money to pay for college or universities; and even denial of job placement.

Murphy also talked about social media and how it can lead a trail that creates bumps in the college application process.

"Think before you post," she said. "These pictures are never going away."

Dr. Dunn, a 1991 Kennett High graduate, talked about the trends of drug use he is seeing in the emergency room. The drug users are younger; there is more prescription drug use; there is an increase in marijuana use; designer drugs such as Spice, Posh, Molly and bath salts are on the rise; emergency room visits are increasing. Over the past 10 years ER visits have increased 52 percent

"It's really out of proportion," Dr. Dunn said. "We're seeing much riskier and more dangerous behaviors."

Dunn shared some real cases he presided over while working in New York. An 18-year-old girl visited the ER complaining of a cough and fever. She was told she most likely had a viral illness, however the symptoms did not subside and a few days later returned and was in much worse condition. It turns out she was an honors student who had been accepted into Princeton. Upon learning of her acceptance she injected drugs for the first time. She injected bacteria into her blood stream — it also landed in her brain and lungs. She will be impaired for the rest of life."

Dr. Dunn said prescription drug use has risen 148 percent since 2004. (LLOYD JONES PHOTO)Dunn said prescription drug use has risen 148 percent since 2004.

"Nationally," he said, "2,000 high school kids every day in the United States take prescription drugs for the first time. This stuff happens a lot. You've got to talk to your kids."

Dr. Sponseller talked about what is a substance use disorder, brain changes/dependence and how to have the conversation with your children.

He said on average it takes a person four attempts to become sober after battling addiction.

Dr. Sponseller showed slides of the normal brain; a brain featuring black holes caused by dead brain tissue in a cocaine user; and a brain impacted from alcohol use.

Sponseller spoke about the importance of parents having conversations with their children about drugs. For children aged preschool to seven he suggested using a calm tone; speaking in terms; use this as a teachable moment; and even using tools such as movies to assist in the conversation.

For ages 8-12, "asking the questions in a non-judgmental, open-ended way, you're more likely to get an honest response," he said. "Establishing a dialogue now helps keep the door open as kids get older and are less inclined to share their thoughts and feelings."

For ages 13-17 the child most likely knows someone who has used drugs. Try to understand their thoughts; talk about possible legal impacts of drug use such as fines or jail time and also the possibility of injuring or even killing someone as a result of your actions.

Sponseller asked parents to consider establishing a written or verbal contract on the rules about going out or using the car. You can promise to pick your kids up at any time (even 2 a.m.) no questions asked if they call you when the person responsible for driving has been drinking or using drugs.

"The most difficult thing you can do is start the conversation," he said. "Once (the child) realizes you're not being judgmental you can move forward."

Selfridge spoke about prevention/protective factors along with resources in the community/school.

"This group of people is amazing," she said. "I think we're off to a really good start. We have many of the ingredients here that we need to make a difference in the Mount Washington Valley. Prevention is everyone's responsibility."

Selfridge offered seven ways to protect your child.

1) Talk with your kids. 2) Be clear about your expectations. 3) Be a role model. 4) Be involved in your kid's life. 5) Encourage rules and follow through. 6) Encourage your child to work hard in school. 7) Show your support by being involved in outside activities.

Moylan closed the meeting by calling the evening "a first step" and said there will be more meetings on the subject in the near future.