CLINTON — During the past week and in separate incidents, two students, ages 13 and 14, were transported from Clinton Middle School to the hospital after staff members identified possible prescription drug abuse.
Clinton Middle School Principal Dan Boyd said the staff was made aware of possible drug use by the affected students' peers. In each case, the student was brought into the nurse's office for assessment, and from there it was decided to bring the student to the hospital. Boyd has been in contact with family to check on the students.
To address concerns related to those incidents, the Parent-Teacher Association is hosting an informational meeting at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Clinton Middle School.
The meeting will be structured around street drugs, alcohol and prescription drugs, according to a release by PTA President Jennifer Austin, and will provide educational tools from local agencies and resources.
"The parents are devastated. I am devastated," Austin said. "We knew the families that are involved. Teachers are devastated. I want parents and people to know it's not our schools, and it's not just Clinton. It's actually a reflection of what's going on in the world."
Gateway ImpACT Coalition, representatives from Drug Abuse Resistance Education and high school counselors have been brought in to educate the middle school student body.
The coalition also had performed a youth-centered focus group and found that, though with less frequency than alcohol and cannabis, their peers are using prescription medication "at concerning rates," according to Kristen Huisenga, coalition coordinator and executive director of the Clinton Substance Abuse Council.
She said that "pharm parties" have been reported in the past, but are uncommon. However, the coalition has found that pills are readily available, as most times they are prescribed for an injury or another medical purpose. Reports from these focus groups found that 50 percent of 11th-graders say that getting their hands on these pills was "easy or very easy," compared to the average 38 percent among districts of comparable size.
"But the problem appears to come from the 'extra' medication," Huisenga said. "Parents often put that in a drawer or medicine cabinet. The youth report that medication can be taken and used or sold without parents noticing."
Youths report the same scenario at the houses of grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends.
As a result, Boyd urges parents to utilize prescription drop boxes, like those at Wagner Pharmacy and the police department, to dispose of unused medications.
Though the students' individual purpose for taking the pills is unknown, and despite talk of the seemingly growing issue among school-age kids, this wasn't something the district had anticipated.
"This certainly – to this level – has been a brand-new experience," said Clinton School District Superintendent Gary DeLacy. "The info that we're getting for the most part sounds like these prescriptions are coming from the home and then brought to school."
The school, applauded by Austin and DeLacy, jumped into action Friday – setting up additional counseling sessions and bringing in community action groups and school therapy dogs. The superintendent said Monday that more support would be in to bring stability to the day and meet student needs.
Though the incidents happened at school, DeLacy is not convinced they hadn't stemmed from outside. He mentioned the sentiment, "It takes a village to raise a child."
"I am actually very proud of the middle school staff and their reaction on Friday. I think they were put into a difficult position and I think they've done some good proactive things with kids… but we also know we need community support. These issues are coming into the school, as much as we want to work on that we all have to work together."
Though older aged students, like the aforementioned juniors in high school, would seem like an age when kids would start experiencing and being introduced to illegal use of substances, it's happening to younger students as well. Huisenga also found that the education around prescription drugs is split. Kids either have no idea about the abuse, or they are up to date on the latest lingo. She added that less than 20 percent of youths in the focus groups are talking with their parents about prescription abuse, and when there is discussion very little factual information or question answering is reported. Most say their parents reply, "Don't do it."
"It really makes you think where you keep your medicine, who is looking for it," Austin said, adding that is the type of information they hope to relay at Wednesday's session.