School Approves Drug Testing
The board voted to approve mandatory drug testing. The new policy affects students involved in extra-curricular activities and those with parking passes. There were mixed responses to the decision, including one ACLU representative who threatened a lawsuit against the school district.
The drug problem in Ashland first surfaced after Southern Boone County student Chris Crivello died last year. Chris' death is a visible sign of what police call a big problem.
"I started taking them and then I got addicted to them and then it went from there. You just can't live without them."
Although Ashland is a small town, it has received a lot of attention for its drug scene and the death of a high school student last year. Described as handsome and popular, Crivello fell victim to the latest fad of mixing prescription pills and alcohol in February 2006. And he wasn't an isolated case.
"Since Chris died, we've had several cases of overdoses, again, alcohol, pills," Ashland Police Chief Scott Robbins said. "I really would have thought his death would have been a wake up call."
One student says not everyone looks at Chris' death as an example of the dangers of drug use.
"I don't think it really affects them, I mean they think about it for a little bit but they think, nah, he just made a mistake," Southern Boone County student Kayla Bennett said.
Levi Harmon knew Chris died, but that didn't keep him out of his mother's pills. Levi says he used his mothers' pills because he was depressed, but he also handed them out at school. A 13 year-old girl took six of the pills during class, collapsed and was rushed to the hospital.
"Seeing your child taken out in handcuffs is something really hard, he was fifteen," Levi's mother, Mary Harmon said.
Harmon says it's embarrassing, but she wants people to learn from her story.
"I can't stand the thought of them being hurt, they're too good of kids. They're smart kids, they're intelligent, they're bright, they're beautiful and they've got such a future ahead of them," Harmon said.
The underground operation starts when adults get their prescriptions filled, legally, and take them home. Then kids take them and either sell the pills or give them away.
"Probably at school is where most of it happens. There's just people out there who have them, if you know the right people you can get them," Levi Harmon said.
Southern Boone County Superintendent Susan Gauzy says the school district is doing its best to combat the problem. The school changed its policy after Chris' death. If students punished for a drug offense attend counseling, the school reduces suspension time. Random drug testing is the next level of deterrent. Supporters say it gives kids a firm reason to say no.
"Not all the kids are leaders and they follow and they want to fit in and that's how some of them get caught up in drugs," mother karen stoneberger said.
Some say high schools aren't the only ones in need of change.
"I think they should start it in middle school rather than in high school because by high school people have already experimented mostly," Levi Harmon said.
Levi says he took the pills during class time but nobody noticed.
"It definitely changes your personality a lot. You can tell, it's just if the teachers say anything," he said.
School resource officer Kristina Yow tries her hardest to be visible in the schools. Yow has a strong rapport with students and her challenge is using that friendship to change their minds about drugs.
"I'm gearing my lesson plans even towards the kindergarten level. I can't see it that way. I can't lose hope, because then what am I there for? If I can save one, then it's worth it," Yow said.
But people in Ashland agree it will take more than a mandatory drug test and a passionate school resource officer to change mindsets.
"A lot of the kids are really hooked on it and think it's the cool thing to do," Bennett said.
"Our popular culture, as I'm sure you are aware is a mess, it glorifies drug use," Robbins said.
And police say parents are the key.
"A lot of parents are in denial, they think not my kid. But a lot of the time, yeah it is your kid," Robbins said.
They recommend parents lock up medicine cabinets and count their pills.
It is important to note many of the overdoses in Ashland have been as a result of alcohol, not just prescription pills. KOMU chose to focus on prescription pills because it is a new phenomena taking hold among teenagers.
According to the new drug testing policy, parents of children grades 9 -12 can volunteer their child for the random drug testing.