Drug access among Incline Village teenagers: ‘A need to help our children’ | SierraSun.com

Drug access among Incline Village teenagers: ‘A need to help our children’

The abundance of prescription drugs throughout the Tahoe region, and across the nation, is something school and police officials monitor.
Courtesy Thinkstock.com | Fuse

Editor’s note

This is the second in a two-part series regarding illegal drugs in Incline Village and Crystal Bay. Due to the sensitive nature of this story topic, the names of some people quoted within this series have been withheld to protect their identity. Click here to read part one, which dealt with the number of drug-related deaths and crimes the past five years, and the start of local Nar-Anon and Narcotics Anonymous groups in the community.

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By the numbers

In the past 10 school years (2003-04 to 2013-14), 47 drug-related investigations have occurred at Incline Village’s public schools involving students, all of which resulted in arrests. None has involved faculty or staff. They are as follows:

28: Drug possession/use

16: Drug paraphernalia possession

3: Sales/distribution

Source: Washoe County School District, Washoe County School District Police

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Do you need help?

If you feel you or someone you know has a problem with narcotics or drugs in the community, there are options:

Safe Talk For Teens: To learn more about this free early intervention/prevention center based in Reno, visit safetalkforteens.org" target="_blank">Bold">safetalkforteens.org or call 775-823-2700.

Narcotics Anonymous: To learn more about the Incline group, which meets 8 a.m. Thursdays at St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church, visit sierrasagena.org" target="_blank">Bold">sierrasagena.org . Or, call the Sierra Sage Help Line at 530-546-1116.

Nar-Anon: To learn more about the Incline group, which meets Wednesdays, 6:30-8 p.m. at Cornerstone Church, call Edee Campbell at 775-232-5262. Or, visit Nar-Anon.org" target="_blank">Bold">Nar-Anon.org .

Alcoholics Anonymous: Visit laketahoearea- alcoholicsanonymous.com to see when and where AA meetings take place in Incline-Tahoe-Truckee communities.

Al-Anon: Visit nevadaal-anon.org/nonvmeetinglist.html" target="_blank">Bold">nevadaal-anon.org/nonvmeetinglist.html to see when and where Al-Anon meetings take place in Incline-Tahoe-Truckee communities.

INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — Above Lake Tahoe, to the north of Kings Beach at Brockway Summit, sits a popular recreation location known as Watson Lake.

There are old fire roads and trails off Highway 267 allowing access to the area that offers stunning views of Tahoe and several spots amid trees and boulders to hike, camp and picnic.

If you’re in the know, it also plays host to summer nighttime full moon parties, featuring bright lights, electronic music and scores of locals experimenting with drugs who are looking for a good time — away from the authorities.

While some events are put on by adults who party responsibly, others are either attended — or even created — by area youth, including students who attend Incline High School, a 28-year-old native of Tahoe City told the Bonanza recently.

“The bigger thing, and I hate to say it, but I think there’s a drug problem at every high school in the United States.”
Leslie Hermann
K-12 principal, Incline public schools

“This summer, I was camping at Watson, and one day I returned to my campsite to find a full-on, full moon-style rave party being set up by a few kids who seemed a little young. I didn’t kick them out, said I like to party, and watched the night unfold,” he said. “Once the crowds rolled in, I felt like a grandpa and learned it was all … Incline High kids, acting like burners, doing (Special) K, Molly, smoking DMT, drinking, doing Whip-Its, a bunch of LSD.

“Literally everything like you see at Burning Man, these average 16-year-olds were getting down on hard. I’ve been to plenty of the burner full moon parties, but this was high schoolers trying to replicate that.”

The above is a situation some say is becoming more frequent in Incline Village — whether it’s a house party where parents OK alcohol use so long as youth don’t drive, or larger-scale parties in the woods or those on Tahoe’s waters commonly referred to as “Boom Boom Lagoons” where harder drugs might be present, teenagers in town have easier access to narcotics and psychedelics.

Examples like these were discussed in several interviews for this story, and while the conversations varied, the end result often leaned toward the following question: Are there enough measures and counseling programs in place to stop habits among youth, or is the situation one where parents should own better responsibility?

“I have felt there is a need … for a long time to have a better process educating people about what’s truly happening in the community with drug use, and a need for support for those of us dealing with others’ drug addictions — our children, friends, spouses, co-workers,” said Incline resident and parent Edee Campbell. “There is a need to help our children, prior to them using drugs and before they get in trouble. There are programs out there, of course, but that’s once they’ve already had contact with the law and have a serious problem with alcohol or drug addiction, and by then things are out of control. But there are things we can do prior to that.”

‘TRANSCENDS ALL SOCIOECONOMIC LEVELS’

This summer, Campbell started a Nar-Anon support group in Incline Village — the first of its kind at Lake Tahoe — in an effort to help herself and others cope with the stresses involved with family members succumbing to drug addiction.

She became inspired to start the program because she and many local adults feel there is a problem with illegal drugs and addiction in Incline Village, particularly among teenagers and young adults.

According to the Washoe County School District, in the past 10 years, administration and/or school police have led 47 drug-related investigations of students at Incline’s public schools, with the majority occurring at Incline High. All resulted in arrests, with 28 for possession/use, 16 for paraphernalia possession and three for sales/distribution.

In the same timeframe, the district recorded 50 suspensions or expulsions related to possessing, using, trafficking or any other connection with illegal drugs on campus in Incline.

Those numbers average roughly five per year among a trio of schools that boasts a combined enrollment of around 1,000 students — but it’s not necessarily an abnormal statistic, Katherine Loudon, director of counseling, equity and diversity for WCSD, said in an interview this summer.

“When I look at substance abuse district-wide … what I see happening is it transcends all socioeconomic levels, all communities, all races, boys and girls,” Loudon said. “And so, having worked with it for several years, we may see a spike one year over another, but overall it’s consistent. Incline may be higher in one year if they’ve had more incidents in one area, but another community may be higher later.

“Unfortunately, substance abuse remains a constant with our youth over time. In the end, our schools are mirrors of our community, so if Incline Village as a community has struggles with substance abuse, then their children will, too.”

While the district mandates every student take health classes that cover substance abuse, among other measures such as assemblies and guest speakers to promote awareness, Loudon said one of the most effective methods to curb a student’s effort to use is through its “Substance Abuse Intervention Program.”

Basically, a student is suspended 10 days for a first-time substance abuse offense; however, the last seven days are waived if the student and his or her parent(s) attend four consecutive sessions of the program.

The two-hour sessions feature various district and community experts who talk about the legal and pharmacological effects of substance abuse, as well as communication and coping skills.

“It’s an opportunity to begin again — it’s not designed as a discipline program, but more of a program for support and intervention. Discipline happens at the school level,” Loudon said. “Often the child will start demonstrating some hints that make it apparent to a teacher or staff member … so the sooner we can discover a student is having troubles with substances, the better.

“It’s a great first step, it’s 100 percent anonymous, and some students even self report, which is encouraging.”

Second offenses carry another 10-day suspension, with a mandatory five days served. The other five are waived if the student passes a drug test.

Further, the student is referred to a qualified community counseling agency for eight consecutive alcohol/drug related support sessions.

‘TAKING A STANCE AS A COMMUNITY’

Records regarding students referred for drug counseling are not kept longer than two years, according to WCSD. However, all students disciplined for drug-related incidents are also referred for drug counseling. Therefore, all 50 Incline Village students suspended/expelled the past 10 years were referred for drug counseling.

Fifty percent of that number, however — 25 students — were referred for drug counseling during the 2012-13 and 2013-14 school years.

According to the district, for the past 10 years, 28 students attending an Incline public school were enrolled in the Substance Abuse Intervention Program.

Leslie Hermann, who once taught at Incline Middle School in the 80s, became K-12 principal at the three Incline schools in July 2013 after serving for 12 years as assistant principal at McQueen High School in Reno.

During a recent interview, she said she’s had a number of parents speak with her since the start of last school year to get her take on if drugs are an issue on local campuses.

Parents should be concerned with accessibility of drugs in Incline Village, Hermann said, but with the caveat that it’s not because the town is unique or in a worse position that other communities in Washoe County or across the country.

“Do I think (the statistics) are disproportionate? Not necessarily. Coming from McQueen High School, with 2,000 students, there’s a lot more anonymity down there with students, where as here in Incline, kids don’t get away with as much than they do at a large school,” she said. “The bigger thing, and I hate to say it, but I think there’s a drug problem at every high school in the United States. But we really try to get a handle on it.”

In Incline, one of those ways involves bringing drug dogs into the high school a few times a year. In these instances, the dog will come to a classroom, which is then vacated of students, and search the room and lockers.

At times, they’ve yielded positive results, said Hermann, who added that while dogs have yet to perform searches at Incline Middle School, they “certainly could do that” in the future.

“It’s not a completely random search, but we do pick certain classrooms, and target certain parts of the school … based on information we gather or get from secret witness tips,” she said. “Every time we get a secret witness tip, we do a full investigation.”

Another developing strategy — what Hermann called a “very proactive pilot program” — employed this year was holding a drug and alcohol summit at the high school, composed mostly of groups of 10th and 11th graders.

Similar to the district’s intervention program, experts such as school district police, doctors, counselors and even recovering addicts came and spoke with students about addiction, legal ramifications, what drugs are out there and their negative impacts.

It’s shown success, said Hermann, who’s now in talks with businesses like the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe to host a larger scale summit, in collaboration with the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office.

The idea could gain steam heading into 2015 once new Washoe County Sheriff Chuck Allen is in office, she said, and would be designed to have businesses host longer events so parents who normally would be at work could also attend to learn.

“It’s something that we’re going to continue to expand upon, and recycle this idea of gathering small groups of kids to be privy to the information that’s out there,” Hermann said. “This is an example of us taking a stance as a community on it, because it’s not just the kids who are using and abusing, and we know this.”

‘A SAFE PLACE FOR KIDS TO COME TALK’

Someone else helping take a stance is Joe Dufur, who’s seen the criminal side of things close up with youth, having worked in the Washoe County Department of Juvenile Services for 25 and half years.

After he retired in December 2011, he was inspired by several partners to help open the Reno office of Safe Talk for Teens in April 2013.

Safe Talk is a free early intervention/prevention nonprofit center for teenagers with unmet needs to help them and their parents talk openly and confidentially with a case manager — in this case, Dufur, who focuses much of the anonymous sessions on listening, guidance, values clarification and goal-setting.

A big part of each session is having each client fill out a value statement on which to build a future.

“The whole idea is this is a safe place for kids to come talk, and to empower the kids to decide,” Dufur said. “It is important for kids to work on decision-making … and create an essential set of core values that we can reference so the kids can make better decisions. And what dovetails with that is goal-setting, and that obviously gives them motivation, gives them purpose to perform in school or be inspired to find worthy employment.”

If Dufur sees a need for further counseling after two sessions, he refers clients to professionals throughout the Reno-Tahoe area. As of this summer, Safe Talk had 178 referrals since opening, and of those, 150 met with counselors.

“Every family has challenges, and bottom line, we’re looking to redirect kids who are starting to make perhaps some poor choices academically in school, or skipping school,” Dufur said. “Many times it’s relationship issues with the parents or boyfriends or girlfriends — if those issues aren’t attacked quickly, they can get into alcohol and drugs, so we want to prevent that and redirect that ship.”

Dufur meets with children generally between ages 8 and 19, and he makes trips to Incline Village every two weeks to meet with youth and families here. Incline clients also have come down to meet with him in Reno.

Currently, during the nonprofit’s still-young stages (although Dufur hopes to eventually open a larger office and hire staff to help more kids), Safe Talk’s target schools include Damonte Ranch, Galena, Reno and Bishop Manogue high schools, and Sage Ridge School in Reno — and Incline High, Middle and Elementary schools.

“It’s small enough that we felt that we can handle and take care of the whole community in one shot — with Leslie being the principal of all three schools, it makes it more feasible,” Dufur said. “Eventually I would hope that we could dig down to the roots and start younger with all the schools.”

Despite programs in place, both inside and out of the school district, the statistics suggest perhaps more is needed in Incline.

According to the school district, records aren’t kept longer than two years regarding students identified as being potentially at risk to drug exposure. However, for the 2012-13 and 2013-14 years, 40 students attending an Incline Village public school were identified as being potentially at risk to drug exposure.

‘THE STIGMA ASSOCIATED WITH DRUG USE’

And when it comes to drug exposure, there’s plenty in town, according to some residents.

“I’ve heard parents tell me they know which kids have pot at school, or even worse stuff, like ecstasy. Their kids tell them,” said one longtime Incline resident who manages a business in town. “Plus, these kids, all they have to do is know the right people in town, and they can find what they want. And the money’s there, considering how many rich people are here … You see 15-year-olds driving a Lexus, a Mercedes, it’s no wonder.”

While it’s nearly impossible to pinpoint specific drugs teenagers use in Incline Village — for example, the Nevada Youth Risk Behavior Surveys performed every two years include drug statistics, but only contain district-wide information, and individual schools are not recorded — one item parents and school officials are monitoring is prescription drugs.

Certain types of drugs like painkillers and tranquilizers — even over-the-counter drugs like NyQuil and Robitussin — can cause severe addiction problems, and many overdose deaths locally and nationally are a direct result.

“Honestly, when I talk to my site administrators, one of biggest problems we have in town is prescription drug use, and it’s absolutely something we have to work with the sheriff’s office and the parents on,” Hermann said. “It’s something as a community we need to pay very, very close attention to, because (youth) know it’s in the household.”

Another issue, she said, is with the ever-evolving world of the drug user — and at the schools, staff and police are constantly working with their heads on a swivel.

Hermann shared an example at McQueen where a female student faced a paraphernalia possession charge after it was determined the tube of lipstick she had was actually a hashish (a concentrated form of marijuana) pipe.

“Things change daily, in how clever drug dealers are, and how clever users are,” she said. “There is ingenuity in terms of paraphernalia, and it’s something we really have to stay on top of.”

In the end, the old adage that “kids will be kids” can, at times, hold true even in extreme situations like modeling parent behavior after alcohol or drug use — or in simply being curious about what’s in the medicine cabinet.

And the other negative impact, as Loudon and others said, is if the parents do know, perhaps they aren’t doing anything about it.

“A lot of the issue is addressing the stigma associated with drug use. Parents can be nervous about the sigma, or they don’t want to deal with the possibility that their child is using,” Loudon said. “Then they wait too long to reach out to the school, and by then, the child has already engaged in a lot of troubled behavior.”