Police, school officials urge vigilance on teen drug use

Police and school officials in Carmel Valley and surrounding communities want parents to know that teen drug use is a problem that can be reduced through awareness and engagement.

Sgt. Wes Albers and Officer Robert Briggs, who work with juveniles in the San Diego Police Department’s Northwestern Division, which encompasses the communities of Sorrento Valley, Torrey Preserve, Del Mar Heights, Carmel Valley, North City, Torrey Highlands and Black Mountain Ranch, say the problem can get worse if steps are not taken.

They point to several incidents in recent months that resulted in six teenagers being taken to hospitals for treatment of drug- or alcohol-related issues. In one instance, two teens were found passed out in a car in front of a high school, and a third was found passed out at a skate park.

In another case, three students who ate gummy bears, possibly laced with the hallucinogenic drug LSD, which they got at a party, also ended up at a local hospital emergency room.

While all of the students recovered, the incidents did raise concerns, the officers said.

“We don’t want people to feel panicked,” said Albers. “But we have to be careful not to live in a bubble and think these problems can’t impact us here. That’s our big challenge.”

The officers urge parents to pay attention to their teens and be aware of changes in behavior that could signal a problem. Those include changes of dress or in their friends, or increasing isolation. Angry outbursts or a sudden drop in grades could also be indicators of a problem, they said.

One way to keep tabs on what is happening with youths is to monitor their social media use.

“You need to be intimately aware of your child’s social media,” said Albers. “They can so quickly end up in something way over their head.

Often, the first contact police have with a minor comes over something less serious, such as a curfew or truancy violation. In those cases, and also when drugs are involved, students can be placed in a diversion program, in which they attend classes, do community service or other tasks, which allow them to avoid prosecution and a record with the juvenile justice system.

“We want to help kids make appropriate choices so as not to affect their future,” said Albers.

When teens get involved in more serious drug use or violence, prosecution is also a possibility.

“We always want to work with the carrot first, but there are times when the stick comes into play,” Briggs said.

Joe Olesky, who has run an alcohol and drug abuse prevention program for the San Dieguito Union High School District for the past 12 years, said parents must talk to their children, and be aware of what is going on in their lives.

“It’s about parents being in the know,” said Olesky. “Parents need to sit their kids down (and tell them) this is a drug-free environment.”

Each year, the San Dieguito district sees about 150 to 220 students in its drug prevention program, said Olesky. Most have been caught with drugs or paraphernalia, or found to be under the influence. About 20 percent attend voluntarily or at the behest of their parents.

The program includes classes, community service, journal-writing and follow-up treatment. Parents also are given drug-testing kits and told to have their children use them, Olesky said, and parents must attend weekly meetings.

Among the drugs being used by teens today are marijuana, LSD, xanax and opioids, which include prescription pills and heroin, said Olesky. Particularly troubling are highly concentrated extracts of marijuana that are much stronger than the leafy form of the drug.

“The biggest thing we have to talk about in the entire country is the opioid epidemic. Heroin, fentanyl and narcotic prescription pills are still very much being used by our kids,” Olesky said.

Xanax is a prescription drug used for anxiety or stress relief, and often can be counterfeit, officials said.

From the law enforcement perspective, an effective intervention by parents, school officials and the police can prevent relatively minor offenses by teens from spiraling out of control into more serious crimes.

“Bad decisions start to compound,” Albers said. “We try to interrupt that compounding effect whenever possible.”