TARGET 8: High school drug investigation reflects greater drug abuse by teens

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ASHLAND  - Drug use at Southern Boone High School has prompted two separate investigations - one by the Ashland Police Department and the other by the Boone County Sheriff's Department.

In September, KOMU covered a tip from a concerned parent saying the Southern Boone School District sent a letter to parents and faculty informing them a high school employee was under investigation for misconduct regarding illegal drugs.

The Boone County Sheriff's Department started investigating the case in May. And despite rumors running between students, faculty, and parents, the district waited three months to formally tell parents.

Around the same time, the Ashland Police Deparment was looking into a drug sales operation at the school, according to documents obtained by the Target 8 team.

The police report said five teenagers, with ties to the high school, were connected to suppling and dealing Xanax, methampehtamine or marijuana to other students. The report also said the deals were done off school grounds.

One of the teenagers mentioned in that report was also named in another police report which said he sold marijuana to a 14-year-old student. He was charged with a felony for driving while intoxicated and possession of Xanax and marijuana.

Ashland's police chief says drugs in high school is "similar to a squeegee."

“Where you wipe the window and there is a dry spot and then the water from elsewhere just kinda trickles in. So, the problem resumes,” Lyn Woolford said.

He said law enforcement is well aware of the issue.

"We know that there is illegal abuse of drugs, and we know there are illegal substances that are circulating through the town," Woolford said.

Data from the Missouri Department of Mental Health shows Missouri students, grade six to 12, have used prescription drug not prescribed to them. All the grades, expect for 10th grade, showed the highest percentage of prescription drug use since data was first collected in 2010. 

Woolford says this age range is when young adults have the greatest exposure, or maybe even first exposure, to different types of drugs, and many different reasons for use. 

"It’s associated with growing up, and the freedom, and the maturity and the choices that all come with becoming an adult."

Thomas O'Sullivan, a Boone County Sheriff's detective said he has seen prescription drug abuse grow during his 30 years in law enforcement.

"We are seeing many more individuals who are abusing drugs," O'Sullivan said. "And just seeing a lot more than we did fifteen, twenty years ago."  

O'Sullivan said people are able to easily access prescription medications from a family member or friend or by stealing. 

"Well, unfortunately it's very easy," O'Sullivan said. "There are so many more people who are being prescribed opioids, depressants, stimulants."

Other Department of Mental Health data showed Boone County is less then 1 percent shy of being labeled a "very easy" county to acquire prescription drugs like Cole and Moniteau County.  (See map below.)

After being presented with the numbers, Southern Boone School District Superintendent Christopher Felmlee said the numbers sound right.

"I think it's not only a Boone County issue, its a state and national issue. Just looking at opioids alone is a huge concern," Felmlee said. "Every district is dealing with that and how to protect the learning environment."

Woolford said the problem isn't exclusive to Ashland or Boone County, or confined to just young people.

"I mean, it’s everywhere," he said.

And the Sheriff's Department has seen the same pattern.

"Yes, it’s the whole gamut: young, old, rich, poor, male, female, urban, rural. So, we've seen an uptick in all the demographics," O'Sullivan said.

At the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year, Southern Boone High School implemented two new policies: Students are not allowed to go to their cars during, or between, class hours, and students must use see-through plastic water bottles within school grounds.

In addition, Felmlee said the district has looked for outside help to understand what it can do to help students and how to minimize future issues.

The high school has reached out to the Boone County School Mental Health Coalition, the Youth Community Coalition and Ashland Helping Youth.

"Sometimes asking for help is one of the hardest things to do," Felmlee said, "but that is what we did. As a school district we asked for help."

Felmlee said the issue is not only drugs, but also helping students make positive choices in life.