Parents attending the third annual Drug Trends and Awareness program at Coppell Middle School West on April 11 discovered heroin, alcohol and prescription drugs are the pervasive threats plaguing area middle school students, while methamphetamines, marijuana and synthetic cannabinoids (also known as K2 and Spice) are secondary menaces. Parents also learned that prescription drug abuse is now considered the gateway to heroin use.
Hosted by the Coppell Independent School District and the Coppell Police Department, the program featured a presentation by the Dallas office of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).
“The bad news is that our children are at risk. They’re being threatened every single day. They are being targeted by predators throughout our community. And by predators, I don’t just mean people. Media, social media even popular media,” said Coppell Police Chief, Mac Tristan, who added that pop culture and the tools to access pop culture – music, the Internet, reality television, as well as actual human predators, contribute to children’s at-risk status.
Tristan also expressed concern that the messages pop culture sends to kids is being received as tacit permissions to use drugs, drink alcohol, and engage in sex, without understanding the consequences of their decision-making.
While many parents may be aware from their children that drugs are being sold on Coppell campuses, removing or arresting drug dealing students is not easy.
“The challenge that we have is even students are still protected by the Constitution, by the law,” Tristan said. “We cannot simply search a student, search their backpack, their locker, their cars arrest them without evidence, without probable cause, without a search warrant.”
Tristan said to prepare a case or obtain a search warrant the police must have information culled through programs like Crime Stoppers, crime tips or by students going to the police to provide them with information.
“It’s vitally important you talk to your students, your children about sharing this information. The good news for [parents] is that you’re not an officer of the law and your child has no right to privacy,” Tristan said. “You know that or you wouldn’t be here.” He also emphasized that parents’ main job is to ask their children questions and review their technology (phones, iPads, computers). “It’s ongoing. Every single day.”
Tristan said that Coppell officers are seeing the drugs on their streets described by the DEA as trending.
“It is pretty much the new stuff – everything that we find on the streets. We do make a lot of arrests at traffic stops and we find marijuana. We find the heroin and the meth, prescription pills. And we make those arrests weekly here in Coppell,” he said.
Heroin and prescription drug use has replaced cocaine as the biggest problem drug in 2016, while methamphetamines remain a consistent problem in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, according to Rhonda Kelly, Dallas field intelligence manager for the DEA. She also added Mexican cartels are the biggest production sources for heroin and meth, while Chinese factories are the largest producers of synthetic drugs.
“We’re more likely to die of a drug overdose than a motor vehicle accident,” Kelly said outlining the country’s pervasive drug use. “As parents we have to remember the drug threat against our kids–at the middle school level–it really is other children. But globally, drug trafficking is really an international business and these people are making drugs off the misery of families. Drug traffickers are profiting off of heartache and destruction,” she said.
The profile of a heroin user is typically a person who abused prescription painkillers.
“Almost inevitably they started with prescription pain killers,” Kelly said. “It’s a 19 times higher rate of new heroin usage among people who formerly abused opiate prescription drugs. Eighty percent of new heroin users abused prescription painkillers first. So that’s the real tragedy of the young kids experimenting in mom and dad’s medicine cabinet with opiate pain killers is that heroin is out there. If they like the feeling that they got from the pill, then heroin is easily available.”
Heroin users are using alternative methods to ingest the drug. Moreover, checking for needle or track marks on your child’s body is no longer the sole discovery method of heroin use. The old-school method of melting down black tar heroin to shoot up with a needle is now matched by heroin use in its white powder form that can be snorted up the nose.
Kelly also said Dallas-Fort Worth is experiencing near daily seizures of people using heroin. Nationally, she said, heroin drug deaths spiked with a 244 percent increase from 2007 to 2013, and “it keeps increasing.” In DFW, drug overdose deaths were attributed to prescription drugs or heroin. In Dallas County, drug overdose deaths increased 44 percent between 2013 and 2014. In Tarrant County, death by drug overdose increased by nearly 60 percent during the same years.
More alarming as to DFW stats regarding heroin deaths is that these mortality rates continue to skyrocket even in the face of a new drug, Narcan, available for EMS ambulance drivers to administer it to people in the throes of heroin overdoses.
“Heroin is in our [DFW] community. It’s out there and kids are overdosing now almost daily here,” Kelly said.
To escape detection, Kelly said Mexican-produced meth is smuggled to the U.S. in its liquid form from its original powered structure, as a way of hiding it in myriad ways during transport across the border.
“But this is not the way you would use it,” she said, adding that meth use is more of a threat to students at the high school and college levels. “Methamphetamine is a hyper stimulant and basically just sort of eats the person alive, from the inside.”
SYNTHETIC CANNABINOID DRUGS:
Another drug threat to middle school students is synthetic cannabinoids, which also go by the names K2 or Spice and are meant to emulate the effects of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) in bath salts form. Kelly said all of the active chemicals in synthetics are manufactured legally in factories in China. Only when the drugs are shipped to the U.S. and assembled, do they become illegal.
“The problem for our government is that there are so many of these new substances being created in these Chinese factories that our laws can’t keep up,” Kelly said. She added there were 97 new chemicals produced that made their way to streets in the U.S., which were previously unknown. “There are new formulas being cooked up that we have no idea what they are or what the result is when people use them, until after they use it,” she said.
In addition to being assembled in the U.S. from China-made chemical compounds, the sellers of synthetics have no clue what is actually in these chemical compounds from China. Cheap and easy to acquire, synthetic drugs are sold in small packets for $20 to $40 a pack and do not show up in drug tests.
Kelly also expressed difficulty in regulating or outlawing synthetics.
“As soon as we can change our law to outlaw a certain chemical, they’ll change the chemical structure,” rendering the law void, she said.
TRENDS IN MARIJUANA USAGE:
Marijuana also is a threat to middle school students. A big trend is to cook it and eat it in foods such as candy or brownies by processing it in its raw form to get its active ingredient, THC, in concentrated form.
Trending too, is the use of compressed butane packed into a tube to make marijuana. The butane forces out the THC so that it is pure THC.
“The content level of THC in a regular marijuana cigarette is very, very low. Some of this stuff though can approach 80 percent pure THC,” Kelly said. “The explosive potential of some of these laboratories that these kids are doing – you’re using compressed butane and propane to do this – the least little spark and they blow themselves up.”
This method of marijuana production is especially problematic in states that legally sell the marijuana – California and Colorado. She also cautioned the trend is starting to spread.
“If you see your kid with compressed butane canisters, be very wary because they could be doing something like this and end up blowing your house up,” she said.
Unlike the marijuana cigarettes smoked by many individuals in the 1980s when the level of THC consisted of four percent active ingredient, THC levels are now 10 to 20 percent. In its concentrated form that level approached 100 percent pure THC.
“It’s not the same marijuana that you and I used. You can’t even compare,” Kelly said. “What your kids have out there is not the same product, put it that way.”
Parents also should be aware of the myriad ways in which kids are using marijuana such as e-cigarettes, vaporizers and bongs.
“The problem with e-cigarettes and this liquid THC is when you smoke this liquid in one of these, it doesn’t leave any smoke. There’s no smell,” Kelly said. “So you could potentially have your kid upstairs smoking a joint in an e-cigarette, and you would be totally unaware. If your kids have e-cigarettes, be aware it might not be just the scented fruity flavors that they’re actually smoking in the thing. There will be nothing to tip you off that that’s what they’re doing.”
While THC laboratories are concentrated on the West Coast, there are one or two in Texas, reflecting the trend that is headed the state’s way.
Coppell resident Stephanie Doan, who has a nine-year-old son attending Austin Elementary, said the program shed significant light on the city’s drug problem and the types of drugs being abused.
“A lot of it I kind of knew because I grew up in West Texas,” Doan said. “So a lot of this – I was more exposed to than maybe, Coppell was. I think there is a bubble [in Coppell] and I don’t think they have any idea of, probably, how serious [drug use] is here.”