Teen drug abuse is multi-faceted problem

MEEKER — The story of the tragic death of a young person to an accidental overdose saturated the paper for a few weeks. But substance abuse is a problem that starts far earlier and extends its reach much further than you might expect.
John Strate, a member of Meeker’s Board of Trustees and a teacher at Meeker High School, is well aware of the problem. He requested a workshop session with the Board of Trustees to discuss the issue.
Meeker Chief of Police Bob Hervey and Investigator Anthony Mazzola of the District Attorney’s office joined Meeker’s trustees for the discussion.
“We did see a substantial increase (in drug-related cases) in 2008 with the influx of new people,” Hervey said. “Not all of those people are gone, and not all of them were transient people.”
While methamphetamine garners a lot of media attention, and there has been a “considerable increase in methamphetamine arrests” in Meeker, Hervey said most of the department’s drug-related cases are for marijuana and drug paraphernalia.
“I think Meeker is still a very safe, small-town atmosphere and doesn’t have near the problem even some of the other small towns have. But we are seeing an increase in the drug issues.”
Hervey said he is aware of an increase in the use of cocaine and Ecstasy, as well as methamphetamine. “We’re hearing a lot about Ecstasy being put on sticker tattoos.”
Mazzola agreed that cocaine use is on the rise, as well as “… a lot more natural stuff, like (psychedelic) mushrooms. Kids are wanting to ‘go green,’ so to speak.”
In Rio Blanco County none of the 23 juvenile cases in 2008 were for narcotics.
“Kids aren’t getting busted for hard drugs,” Mazzola said.
“Alcohol, since I’ve been here, has been the biggest problem,” Hervey said.
“In almost every felony case we have, alcohol is involved,” Mazzola added.
But finding ways to prevent teens from using a drug that is legal for adults and considered socially acceptable is a problem.
Beyond issuing MIPs (Minor In Possession) tickets and cracking down on adults who supply alcohol to underage drinkers, there isn’t a lot the police can do. The consequences for an MIP generally include a fine and useful community service. According to Hervey, getting an MIP is considered a kind of status symbol among some of the youth.
The results of a 2008 survey given to sixth, eighth, 10th and 12th graders in Meeker asked students to report if they had used alcohol, tobacco, inhalants, marijuana, prescription drugs or cocaine/meth/other prior to the age of 15.
The drug of choice among youth is alcohol, with 17 percent of sixth graders and 96 percent of 12th graders reporting that they had used alcohol at some time. Forty-two percent of seniors admitted to binge drinking, and 31 percent admitted they had been drunk at school at some point.
Methamphetamine, cocaine and “other” drugs were at the “low” end of the scale, with 8 percent of seniors reporting using one or more of those substances.
The 30 percent of seniors who reported illegal or improper use of prescription drugs highlights another aspect of the substance abuse problem. According to Strate, kids talk about exchanging or stealing prescriptions from family members.
Workshop attendees discussed the need to involve parents, to seek methods of early intervention, and to pinpoint specific areas to target for education and prevention.
“It just doesn’t seem like there are enough consequences for the juveniles,” said Trustee Gerloff, a former law enforcement officer. “There comes a point when the door needs to be shut and let them learn the hard way. They’ll learn it through continued use or through the criminal justice system.”
“We need a multi-faceted approach,” Strate said. “We can all do more.”