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"Islanders respond to drug threat, Part 2"

"MethamphetaminesWhat are they:Synthetic, inexpensive, easy-to-manufacture powerful stimulants that may contain toxins and flammable chemicals like ether, lead, sulfuric acid and sodium cyanide.Appearance: White, powder or crystal (rock salt, rock candy, chip/sliver of ice, finely shaven pieces of glass). Sold in paper bundles, plastic baggies or heat-sealed packages).How they are taken: Smoking, injection, snorting, oral ingestion. Effects: Mimics effects of cocaine and speed. Sense of well-being, power and belonging. High can last for days. Can produce mental confusion, severe anxiety, aggressiveness leading to violence, cardiac arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat), convulsions, cardiovascular collapse and death. Repeated large doses can lead to a state of paranoia called amphetamine psychosis—resembles paranoid schizophrenia. Delusions of bugs in the skin.Island County Crime Statistics-1998, from the Island County Sheriff’s OfficeBurglaries 268Drug violations 222Drunk driving 289Felony assaults 34Homicides 0Rapes 8Robberies 0Thefts ($250 or more) 377Stolen vehicles 41A drug-related murder and the discovery of a local drug manufacturing meth lab shocked South Whidbey residents into action Wednesday night.Nearly 200 people packed into the high school commons to listen to each other and to talk about drug use among South Whidbey youth and what can be done about it.There was unanimous agreement among the five panel members and seemingly most of the crowd that drug and alcohol abuse is a problem and that it must be confronted at both the community and family levels. No clear solutions to the problem were offered, just more questions, passionate pleas by some, and heart-wrenching stories told by two recovering addicts. Statistics bear out the concern that there is a drug problem on South Whidbey. One-half of the drug violations in Island County occur on South Whidbey. In 1998 there were 222 drug arrests in Island County, and half of those were on South Whidbey.“Even though the Northend has more population and more square miles and includes Camano Island in its statistics, we make one-half of all the drug arrests on the Southend,” said Ray Tash, South Precinct commander of the Island County Sheriff’s Department, who was a member of the panel.Denial partof the problemSeveral panel members indicated that there has been denial among people at the community and school level and in families as well.“We have the same problems with gangs, alcohol and illegal drug use that urban areas are experiencing. We see the effects of drugs on the Southend. In fact, one out of five traffic stops are drug- or alcohol-related,” Tash said. There were 289 drunk driving arrests in 1998. “Alcohol is a favorite choice among eighth and ninth grade students who are looking for a high,” Tash said.Besides alcohol, other drugs of concern are: cocaine and crack, hallucinogens (LSD, PCP, Psilocybin and Mescaline), inhalants (nail polish remover, glue, lighter fluid, gasoline, aerosols), marijuana, opiates, sedates, steroids, stimulants and tobacco.Currently, methamphetamines are one of the most popular drugs. It is the drug of choice in rural areas, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, which says in a report that meth use is an epidemic and a severe threat to public health, causing a rise in violence and HIV (human immune virus) from sharing needles. Plus, meth is inexpensive and can be easily manufactured. “Someone can buy the ingredients in Mount Vernon and make it in a van while being driven to the Island -- and have it ready for sale,” Tash said.Other panel members included two youths, Mike and Monica, who are recovering drug addicts; Holly Adams, a district teacher; Dr. Lisa Bjork, superintendent of South Whidbey schools; and Sandy Aikens, Island County prevention specialist. Each panel member spoke for a few minutes. The stories told by Mike, 19, a former South Whidbey High School student and athlete who is now a student at Edmonds Community College, and Monica, a senior at Bayview High School, impacted many audience members. Both students are successfully recovering. Speaking to Mike and Monica, Langley resident Grethe Cammermeyer wanted to know what someone could have done to prevent their drug addiction.“A loving and supportive mother when I was young,” Monica replied, explaining that her mother was a cocaine addict who never cared for her. “But I am lucky to be alive now and have my dad. Every day I tell him I love him.”Mike responded that he wasn’t looking for support when he was using drugs.“I wouldn’t have listened to anyone. I had to hit bottom and want to quit. I am really lucky that my family has been supportive of me,” he told the crowd.Mike said he had his first drink at 13 and then graduated to a variety of illegal drugs. “I saw things I wish I’d never seen and suffered a loss of chances, goals, friends,” he said.Panelist Lisa Bjork said the school district “has probably been in denial the last five or six years. Our schools are a microcosm of society. We have to be aware of what is happening in society.” She added that she was “humbled” by what she’d seen and heard that night. “When this many people come together, then I’m confident we’ll make a difference,” Bjork said “This is not pie in the sky. Research indicates that there are things we can do at the district level that includes helping kids develop social skills, peer mediation where students will listen to each other, and school rewards to help kids feel successful.”A student in the audience was moved to speak up. “I’ve never dealt with drug issues myself -- it’s amazing to see all these concerned people,” the student said. “Drugs are a big problem ...we have to handle this.” Dr. Patrice O’Neill said, “The drugs like methamphetamines have not been around long enough — we don’t know if the brain can recover from the effects of long term addiction.”Audience member Steven Hall added, “This reminds me of a bunch of farmers who sit around and talk about the horse that got out of the barn.” He challenged people to participate in activities with their children at home and at school. “I am there and involved and I listen and learn from our children,” he said.Langley resident John Norby asked, “How come no one ratted out Edward Ross,” the alleged drug dealer who was recently murdered.Monica responded that teenagers who rat out drug dealers can get baseball bats used on them.Prevention through education was stressed by several people.And when prevention isn’t enough, one audience member said, “What do you do if you find pot in your kid’s room?”“You can contact the district for help in setting up an intervention process,” said Bjork.Tash answered by saying she should call the sheriff’s office as well. “We can’t make them go into treatment but we do have resources to help you,” he said."

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