November 25, 2014
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Marijuana, prescription drugs on rise in schools
Warwick Beacon photos
REALITY WALL: Winman student assistance counselor Marge Johnson stands in front of a display of student comments on how they have seen the effects of alcohol, drug use and addiction.

When Marge Johnson talks about teenage brains, she uses her hands a lot.

“They’re like mush, pliable,” she said, as if she was squeezing a foam ball. It’s her way of explaining why teens do things they can’t even explain.

“The thing is,” she told about 20 parents at Winman Junior High School Tuesday night, “they really don’t know why they did it.”

The brain, which doesn’t fully develop until about the age of 25, is the path Johnson chose to talk about the use of drugs in Warwick schools and what parents should do.

Johnson, along with Nelson Carreiro, school police resource officer for the city’s three junior high schools, and Toll Gate Resource Officer William Castaldi, detailed what drugs teens are experimenting with – largely prescription drugs and marijuana – in the first of a series of three community meetings designed to inform parents. Additional sessions will be held in March for parents in the districts served by Gorton and Vets and Aldrich and Pilgrim, although parents throughout the city are welcome to attend.

Johnson taught science in Warwick schools for about 30 years. After leaving teaching, she found she still wanted to be with kids and went to work for the Rhode Island Student Assistance Services (RISAS). Warwick Schools contracts with RISAS to provide counselors for the city’s three junior and senior high schools. Johnson is the Winman counselor, where she works Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

She makes it clear she’s there to help them. She wants to hear student’s problems; what is shared between them stays between them, even if they are using drugs.

While drug use in high school is more prevalent than junior high, Johnson said the critical grades, where patterns get formed and brain development can be impaired, are between 8th and 10th grade.

Because teens aren’t always good at making choices, Johnson said they are more at risk to experiment with and become addicted to drugs. Her advice to parents is to provide firm guidance, be a positive role model and monitor what they are doing. She urged parents to find ways to stay connected and never assume that because they have been told something once, that’s all that is needed.

“As a parent, you have to repeat the message a thousand times and then repeat it another thousand times,” she said.

It was a message echoed by Carreiro and Castaldi.

Carreiro advised parents to be sensitive to change in their children and even monitor over-the-counter drug use.

“Administer meds yourself, don’t leave it to the teens,” he said, disclosing how teens were mixing Tylenol with alcohol and taking as many as 20 aspirins at a time and downing bottles of cough syrup.

“They’re talking in a language you don’t event understand. You have to educate yourself,” said Castaldi.

He urged parents to turn to the Internet to learn what teens are into and he warned how efforts to clamp down on the illegal use of prescription drugs has resulted in the increased use of heroin. He also spoke about how legal substances that have been found to produce highs are being sold in smoke shops and even some convenience stores. He also mentioned Internet sales.

Johnson said alcohol continues to be used by students, although that has declined slightly. A survey conducted in Warwick schools found 43 percent of 12th graders had drunk an alcoholic beverage in the last 30 days.

Both police and Johnson see an increase in marijuana use that they attribute to its legalization for medical use and growing acceptance that it is not dangerous.

“The perceptions are wrong,” said Johnson.

She said marijuana can be addictive, can delay brain development and increases the risk of depression for some young people.

“Marijuana is a dangerous addictive drug,” she said. “It takes down their motivation more than anything else.”

Carreiro urged parents to dispose of prescription drugs that they no longer need and to take an inventory of what they have.

“It’s really what’s in your [medicine] cabinets,” he said.

He also spoke of the effectiveness of efforts to stop people from getting prescriptions filled on multiple occasions.

“The problem never went away. It just got shifted to a stronger and cheaper opiate, which is heroin,” he said.

And Carreiro talked of the Good Samaritan law that grants immunity to prosecution for those calling in emergency cases where a drug user needs medical attention. Since the law’s enactment, he said Warwick police have responded to several situations where they have been able to help before it’s too late.

“We’re looking to save a life,” he said.


Comments
11 comments on this item

"Marijuana is a dangerous addictive drug"? That's interesting. We have repeatedly been told and the media has repeatedly reported that it is a medicine. There is a Rep, I believe named Miller, that wants to legalize it. You know, normalize the use so everyone, even our youngsters think using it is OK Who would know? But, I believe you Ms. Johnson, since you are on the ground floor and see what is happening to our youth. Hopefully your voice will be heard about this drug and its impact, including people of the press.

Just spreading the fear, "i'm there to help." If you really want to help marge, you could start by using the truth. Marijuana is not addictive. it is used for medical reasons all over the world. Young people are wise to who is honest and who isn't. If you lie to them they'll lie right back.

@darkmark. Medicine?? Please cite FDA approval. TKS

yeah not medicine. the high may make some pain go away. NOT GOOD for kids!!! makes them stupid. Gateway drug

Growing up, it was easier to get marijuana than it was to get alcohol.

If you want to curb marijuana use among youth, legalize and regulate it like alcohol.

Disagree Herb. Legalization would only expand the underground, illegal distribution, by offering a more potent drug and of course avoiding taxes all together. What a marketing tool, and legalization would play into the normalization of this gateway drug.

Good for you Roy Dempsey, marijuana is a dangerous and addictive drug especially in teen years when their brains are developing, Some would be at risk for depression, just what they need so they can be put on another drug for depression, this way they could be screwed up even more. But you know? the pot heads will vote it in. I do agree with you but in the end. "What difference does it make"

Big difference catherine393. This Beacon story is based on an educator's experience. Is she the only educator who has seen the impact of drugs on our youth? I doubt it. Is this where the push back needs to come from in order to change this legalization push? What better then from our teachers. Not the time to give up. It is the time to start the push back.

Roy: is there a big underground market for alcohol? The end of prohibition took that out of the hands of organized crime and in to legitimate businesses.

This society appears to have enough problems caused by alcohol abuse Herb never mind other drugs being legitimized, but where would your so-called legitimate business begin and end? With marijuana? What potency of marijuana? Considering marijuana is a gateway drug, would you legitimize heroin, and if not, don't you think that the underground market and the international pushers would be there as they are now? What makes you think that you will take any business out of the hands of anyone? A tax will just be an additional costs that the users can avoid by sticking with the pushers. The problems will be the same as now, or greater, since we will have created an atmosphere of normalization and legitimization.

There have been 56 overdoses (probably more by now) in this state since January 1st none of them from marijuana and in typical Rhode Island fashion we ignore that problem and focus on marijuana. The real problem in this state is prescription drugs, you ask anyone that knows anything and they will tell you that. Prescription drugs are hard to come by and are leading people to heroin. If some of these dr's started prescribing weed instead of highly addictive painkillers maybe we can start to reverse this trend. The older generation has no idea how serious and how common pill addiction is...and that's why you keep reading about another overdose everyday you pick up the paper. It's time people wake up! It's not weed that's harming these people, it's the painkillers and other fatal drugs. Until people realize how serious this is than we are going to keep reading about it in the paper. I believe we should tax and regulate marijuana and stop this silly argument over how bad it is. Compared to the other drug epidemic are state is faced w/ now there is no comparison.

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