In the 30-some years Tom Ritchie has worked as a substance abuse counselor, he has seen his share of trends.
What alarms him today is the number of teens abusing prescription drugs.
“It’s disturbing when I see kids in junior highs using these medications,” he said during a Feb. 15 talk at St. Mary Magdalene Catholic Community.
Ritchie, a counselor at Libertas Treatment Center in Green Bay, spoke to the church’s high school students about drug and alcohol abuse.
“I’m seeing kids with problems that you didn’t expect to have problems,” he said. “They didn’t expect to become addicts.”
Marijuana, prescription drugs and alcohol top the list.
The treatment center is a private outpatient facility that focuses on adolescent substance abuse.
“We’re getting calls from all over the state,” Ritchie said. “I’m getting calls at least once a week from a parent finding a syringe, some heroin. It’s out there.”
He told the students that when parents question their teens about marijuana use, their children often say, “I only did it once,” or “Everyone’s doing it.”
The 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Survey shows that 22 percent of ninth through twelfth-grade students reported using marijuana, compared to 19 percent in 2009.
The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction administers the survey every two years. For the 2011 survey, 3,043 ninth through twelfth-grade students in 58 public schools completed the 99-item questionnaire.
The questionnaire covered eight priorities: protective assets, traffic safety, weapons and violence, suicide, tobacco use, alcohol and drug use, sexual behaviors and nutrition and exercise.
In 1993, which was the first year the survey was administered, 11 percent of the teens surveyed reported using marijuana.
That same year, 20 percent reported receiving drug offers at school.
In the 2011 survey, 21 percent reported receiving drug offers at school.
In the Waupaca School District, drugs are not tolerated on school grounds.
“We want to educate them,” said Police Liaison Officer Bret Rodenz. “We can’t control what they’re doing outside the schools. Where they get caught, there are always consequences. At school, there are other consequences.”
Rob Becker is one of two principals at Waupaca High School, and he said if they find marijuana on a student at the school, that student can face expulsion.
They often hear rumors, but they cannot act on them.
On Friday, Feb. 17, the Waupaca County Sheriff Department’s two dogs from its K-9 unit went to both Waupaca’s middle and high schools.
“We’re letting the students know that drugs are not tolerated in school and that we will check from time to time and bring the dogs in to keep them honest,” Becker said.
The dogs did not find drugs at either school.
When there is going to be a lockdown at the high school, only Rodenz and the school’s two principals know. Last week, the dogs sniffed the students’ lockers in the halls and also the gym lockers.
Rodenz said the school district cannot control what is happening outside of the school’s parking lot.
“Parents need to have control. Parents should go into their child’s room and randomly search it,” he said. “It has to be something they do on a regular basis. It’s their right to know what’s in there.”
Rodenz said parents should know how their children are hanging out with and where they are. “A lot of parents want to be a friend, not a parent,” he said.
There are many good parents, but what frustrates the liaison officer is when a student is suspended from school, and he sees that same student walking around town as if nothing has happened.
There has to be accountability and consequences at home, Rodenz said.
The perception in the community is that there are a lot of marijuana dealers, he said.
A teen may buy between $40 and $50 worth of marijuana from a dealer and then turn around and sell some of it to another teen, who does not have that connection. That teen is also financing future purchases, he said.
“If I had a voice to parents, it’s to be aware,” Rodenz said.
Prescription drugs should be locked up in homes, and in cases when teens are on prescriptions, the parents should be dispensing the prescription to their teens and watching them take it, he said.
Becker said that are home drug test kits that can be purchased over the counter at pharmacies.
Rodenz said if a student had a tooth pulled and has a prescription for a pain killer, giving one of those same prescribed pain killers to a friend can be considered a felony.
“Prescriptions are meant for the person it’s being prescribed for,” he said. “I tell everybody to lock it up.”
At WHS, some students have brought forward information about friends abusing drugs, because they want their friends to get help.
The Waupaca County Crime Stoppers offers $50 for anonymous tips that lead to drug and alcohol arrests.
Ritchie said 40 people die every day from an overdose of prescription drugs.
“The person suffering from addiction is responsible for their recovery, just like someone with any disease,” he said. “They have to take responsibility for their outcome.”
It does not help when parents think playing around with marijuana or drinking is just a phase their child is going through, Ritchie said.
“Parents are usually the last to know. That’s what I’ve found out, unfortunately,” he said. “Friends know. They can be a resource.”
Becker said the abuse of drugs and alcohol is a problem throughout the nation.
Rodenz said locally, there are a handful of teens who make poor choices. “Know your kids,” he said. “Know what’s normal and what’s abnormal.”