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Schools to hold parent forum on drug abuse
Panel discussion comes after recent teen deaths
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Evan Waggoner’s death two months ago from a suspected pill overdose was part of a disturbing local trend.

The 18-year-old Flowery Branch High School graduate was the second South Hall teen to die from abusing prescription drugs in 45 days. A third Hall County teen died in 2009 from suspected alcohol poisoning.

With prescription drug abuse on the rise among teens, Hall County Schools and Gainesville City Schools are hosting a pair of parental forums later this month to address youth substance abuse.

“I think it’s time that we take this seriously,” said Evan’s father, Jeff Waggoner, who was not directly involved with planning the forums but plans to be in the audience. “People need to realize this silent killer is out there — it’s in your medicine cabinet, in the kitchen cabinets, in the vanities. And the kids experimenting with this stuff come from every background possible.”

Waggoner said he learned from his son’s friends that he was “eating” as many as 10 pills at a time. While the results of toxicology tests are still pending, the narcotic painkiller Darvocet is the drug suspected of causing his death, Waggoner said.

“These kids are experimenting with something when they have no idea what it will do to their bodies,” Waggoner said.

This month’s forums will include a discussion panel made up of people from the judicial system, mental health and treatment services, recovery community, school officials, the clergy, counselors, law enforcement and youth. Hall County Senior Superior Court Judge John Girardeau will serve as moderator.

“Children rarely, if ever, fully understand the risks of drug abuse,” Girardeau said. “Those who use at an early age associate it only with having a good time. It is our responsibility as parents, teachers, and others who have influence to be sure our children receive accurate information and good guidance so that they may be fully informed of the real risks of drug use.”

Girardeau, as the founder of Hall County’s felony drug court, is well familiar with those risks.

“I have never met anyone who intended to become a drug addict, but know many who have,” the judge said.

Hall County Schools Superintendent Will Schofield said school officials know drug abuse is a threat to all students, regardless of social status.

“As a school system we are committed to these forums as an important step in empowering students, families, schools and outside agencies to link arms in combating the perils of substance abuse for our children,” Schofield said.

Gainesville City Schools Superintendent Merrianne Dyer agreed that drug abuse is a problem that “devastates lives and impacts all groups in our society.”

“As a community, we must protect our children from harm,” she said. “Together, we can take action that will ensure every child will have a bright future. The time is now.”

Surveys show more teens are turning to prescription drugs as the use of tobacco and alcohol is on the decline.

“If we are going to reverse the trends that we are currently seeing, we must begin educating ourselves about the latest developments in drug use,” said Carol Ann Ligon, the coordinator of Hall County’s Safe and Drug Free Schools program.

The forums will be held from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Jan. 19 at Gainesville State College’s continuing education building and from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Jan. 21 at Gainesville High School’s performing arts center.

While the recent teen deaths may not be discussed at the forums, they are sure to be on the minds of many.

“Hopefully the deaths of these boys will cause others to think a little bit about this,” Jeff Waggoner said. “I’m glad they’re taking the initiative to get this information out to parents, and I hope parents will take it seriously enough to come out and listen.”