Eagle County: Teen drug use seen as major problem | VailDaily.com

Eagle County: Teen drug use seen as major problem

Matt Terrell
Vail, CO Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” Drug and alcohol abuse among teens is a major problem in Eagle County ” a problem that is often ignored and accepted as normal by students and families, community leaders say.

A group of experts gathered at Berry Creek Middle School Thursday to talk about the extent of teen drug and alcohol use in Eagle County, and brainstorm solutions to the problem.

In a survey of 853 high school students conducted by the Eagle River Youth Coalition, about 47 percent said they had at least one drink of alcohol in the past 30 days, and 31 percent said they had five or more drinks in a row in the past 30 days.

About 22 percent said they’ve used marijuana at least once in 30 days.

One of the most difficult things about drug and alcohol use is that it’s become a “societal norm” in Eagle County, said Mike Gass, director of secondary education for Eagle County schools. Being a resort community where people come to have fun, drug and alcohol use is often viewed with indifference by families and visitors.

It’s even more frustrating when school officials and law enforcement come across parents who don’t seem to mind that their kids are drinking and using drugs, and then there are parents who even encourage it. Avon police chief Brian Kozak said when he was an officer in Arizona, parents usually seemed grateful when police break up parties.

“Here, we bust up parties and parents are yelling at the police officers for waking them up,” Kozak said.

Then, when the students appear in court, parents will tell judges that they gave their kids permission to drink and use drugs, Kozak said.

Gass said he’s been to a student expulsion hearing where parents wholeheartedly defended their child who was caught selling drugs on campus, and blamed the schools for letting it happen. It’s also awkward when students say they obtained their drugs from their parents’ stash, he said.

Krista McClinton, the clinical program director of Colorado West Mental Health Center, said she’s seen a much greater acceptance among parents that their kids are using drugs.

“What we need is to get parents to truly start calling each other out about what’s going on in the neighborhoods,” Gass said.

The good news is that parents are actually starting to talk with each other, says Janet DeClark, founder of the Eagle County Parent Network. DeClark said for years there’s been a “conspiracy of silence” among parents who were afraid to admit to each other that their teens were abusing drugs and alcohol.

This started to change last year though at a community meeting hosted by Battle Mountain High School about the drug abuse problem. Parents started opening up to each other, and stories about how drugs were affecting families started coming out, DeClark said.

Parents eventually found some comfort in realizing that everyone was going through the same problems, she said.

DeClark and other parents immediately joined together to develop the Eagle County Parent Network and a Safe Homes Pledge, which requires parents to sign a pledge saying they won’t allow drugs and alcohol in their homes and that they’ll closely watch parties for drug and alcohol use.

One of the biggest challenges for law enforcement right now is gathering intelligence on who’s selling drugs to students, said Mike McWilliam, a detective for the Eagle County Sheriff’s department.

Students will admit to police officers that they bought and used drugs ” but usually refuse to give up details like how much they paid, how much they bought, who sold it and what kind of drugs were being offered, McWilliam said.

Another problem in the community is the difficulty many families have in finding treatment options, DeClark said. When parents realize that their child has a drug or alcohol problem, there aren’t many treatment options, and many don’t even know where to start looking.

The Eagle River Youth Coalition is working to form what’s called a “Single Point of Entry” system of getting teens to treatment. This means that when teen has a drinking or drug problem, there should be one place where they can go where a professional can see how bad the problem is, develop a plan and refer them to the right treatment facility.

Staff Writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 748-2955 or mterrell@vaildaily.com.

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