PART OF DRUG PROBLEM IS TRYING TO AVOID THEM Author: Angeline Taylor Pubdate: Mon, 10 May 2004 Source: Charlotte Sun Herald (FL) Copyright: 2004 Sun Coast Media Group Inc. Many students are being raised by parents who have a relaxed attitude toward drug use, in an age in which everything about drugs and the substances themselves are available over the Internet. Marijuana has been called the "gateway drug," and is the leading cause of school expulsions in Sarasota County. And some believe its pervasiveness stems from parents using the drug for recreation with their children. "Some parents are smoking marijuana with their kids," said TRIAD Program Director Steve Hazuda. "Then the kids begin to expand their horizons (to) cocaine, heroin, etc." At least two school district reports and two state reports cite a problem with drugs in Sarasota County. Yet, programs to help either parents or children are still limited. Parents who use the drug today are under the impression that the drug from the 1960s is the same. Fact is, the pot of the 1960s no longer exists. Marijuana today is actually 16 times more toxic, according to national reports and Norman Shewman, CEO of Home Detox Inc. and Home Detox Drug Screening in Venice. "Some of the kids around think it's not harmful," said Capt. Tim Carney, of Sheriff Youth Services. "Nationwide, the drugs of choice for teens is alcohol and marijuana." Shewman, however, has not only seen pot. He's seen heroin, cocaine, Oxycontin -- you name it. Shewman agrees with Carney that the problem is not just in Sarasota County. "Sarasota County has the highest Oxycontin use in the state," Shewman said. "Charlotte County has the highest drug use in the state." Department of Education's discipline data reports show Charlotte County School's drug problem as twice as bad as Sarasota County's. Charlotte County had 378 school drug confiscations in the 2002-03 school year, while Sarasota County only had 162. A process involving student and parent begins once a student is recommended for expulsion, said Linda Post, Sarasota County schools expulsions coordinator. The student's public school prepares a settlement agreement to attend an alternative school. If the agreement is broken, the student is officially expelled and the School Board votes to approve the expulsion. Problem is, most alternative schools are overcrowded. Just recently, school officials requested 19 students to be accepted at Gulf Coast Vocational Institute on an altered schedule. Those students will attend Gulf Coast from 3-7 p.m. at a cost of $23,750. The lure In his book, "Dispelling the Marijuana Myth," George Biernson describes how the toxicity of pot lures most of the new generation of pot users. THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is a psychoactive chemical that stays in a user's body for more than a month. The high, Biernson writes, only uses a small portion of THC, with up to 40 percent being stored in the body. Any student who smokes pot is most likely being dragged "into a state of continual sedation," he writes. This cycle starts the search for the highest high. The difference the day make A current TRIAD student wanted Hazuda to know that his older cousin also attended TRIAD. When the student's cousin was there, he just smoked pot. Now, at 22, he takes 30 to 40 Oxycontin pills a day, Hazuda said. "Then these kids feel like failures," Hazuda said. "They just want to quit on life. Deep down they really do want help." According to Jennifer Walker, program director at Gulf Coast Vocational Institute, the problem is not limited to a certain part of society. "Ten years ago you could pinpoint problems to low SES (socioeconomic students). Nowadays you can't. I've had students from Venice that live in million-dollar subdivisions," Walker said. "We can't just say the kid lives here and this is why he or she is having problems. It has no barriers. It's not just drugs. It's who they elect to be with. That peer group is equally important. How do we combat that?" When family's not enough School Resource Officer Randy Ruth said drug usage often starts as cliques or groups form in middle or high school. By working at North Port High, Ruth has witnessed how high schools develop their own mini-societies. At North Port, none of the groups could be considered gangs. Nonetheless, Ruth is wary. "They aren't really organized gangs. They're more like factions students break into," Ruth said. "They experiment (with drugs) among peers." Ruth has either found or known of drugs on school campus, like a vile of cocaine being found at school, a local heroin arrest and repeated marijuana usage. "This generation doesn't scare me, but the next one sure does," Ruth said. "It's just so sensitized." Internet Those that are not exposed by peers could be educated by the Internet. Their education comes from a well-known Web site, which offers tips such as things to add to marijuana to increase the high. "Unfortunately, a lot of kids are aware of the site," Ruth said. "We got it (the Web address) from a student." The site accepts memberships and donations offers a forum for testimonials. "Wow. WOW," wrote one Ecstasy user. "WOOOOOOOOOOW! Sorry ... Had my first X experience this weekend, and I though (sic) I'd tell the net what it was like, and also ask a few questions about this stuff to the people that know more about it than I do."