Officials warn parents of burgeoning drug trends

Local students to hear testimony on consequences of ‘casual’ use

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Officials warn parents of burgeoning drug trendsFormer BMX pro Tony Hoffman shares with a packed audience his story of succumbing to, and overcoming, an addiction to drugs — Courtesy photo

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Over the last few months, our community has seen some tragic outcomes, and close calls, resulting from drug use in teens and young adults. School and police officials are joining forces to warn students of the hidden dangers, while also attempting to educate parents and families on the increasing difficulty in identifying drugs and paraphernalia.

“I feel that there has been a significant increase in youth drug use in our community, and I suspect that the increased availability of marijuana is one of the reasons,” said Sierra Sands School District Superintendent Ernie Bell.

“I definitely agree with that,” said Ridgecrest Police Chief Jed McLaughlin. “Now that there are legal forms, [marijuana] is easier to get hold of. And part of the problem is that the marijuana of today is not what we grew up with — it’s much more potent.”

“Being at the high school for the last 22 years, the difference I’m seeing is not just in the availability, but in the symptoms,” said Burroughs High School Principal Bryan Auld. “We have seen students completely incapacitated by drug use. In some instances they incur lasting damage. I don’t think the kids realize how dangerous it can be.”

The drugs are also becoming more subtle, and difficult to identify. “One thing we have really seen an increase in is vaping, which can be one of several things. You have juice, which is just a flavor, then you have tobacco and marijuana.”

One fairly new substance, sometimes known as wax, is a highly concentrated form of traditional marijuana that has about 10 times the level of THC.

“And you can’t easily tell these apart,” said Auld. “They look the same, they don’t have smoke, they have a pleasant odor — if you can smell anything at all. And then they have devices that look like a little USB drive that kids can have in their hands and draw on without anyone knowing.”

Auld and McLaughlin also agreed that the level of incidence can be difficult to track, depending on how reports are tagged. However, Auld said, the number of drug-related reports he found comparing year-to-date stats from this year and last year show about a 50-percent increase.

“Those are really just the occurrences when you can tell that kids are clearly under the influence,” he said.

“The challenge I think we face is that the drug environment is changing rapidly. From the drugs people use to the ways they can use them, everything is different. It’s not like it was in the old days when you had to sneak off campus and came back with bloodshot eyes and that lingering smell.

“And what’s worse is that now people are mixing synthetics that can do permanent damage after even one use.”

On Nov. 13 former BMX Elite Pro Tony Hoffman will deliver a message (in three separate assemblies) to the middle- and high-school student bodies in the district.

“We wanted everyone to hear from him,” said Bell. Hoffman began his use with comparatively low-risk drugs in a casual setting, and ended up struggling with an addiction that had spiraled out of control.

Hoffman, now 11 years sober, has taken his message all over the world. “I think it will help our students to hear his personal story of his decisions and where they led him, but it is so critically important that parents get involved in their kids’ lives,” said Bell.

For the last two years, the district has brought in experts in law enforcement to educate parents and families about the warning signs. Those assemblies drew about 125 people each.

“Parents need to be educated,” said Auld. “They need to look at every single device their kids have — not just their phones.” He noted that many items he confiscates bear very little resemblance to typical paraphernalia.

“And it’s not difficult to get,” said McLaughlin. “Some of these items you can now purchase on Amazon.”

Story First Published: 2018-11-02