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THE TEENAGERS: Teens say they have easy access to drugs, medicines
Staff photo illustration
The subject is a parents' biggest enemy, and some teenagers' biggest curiosity.

But teenagers say they don't have to go far to find out what drugs and alcohol are all about.

In addition to the typical teenage stressors such as making friends and grades, excelling in athletics and deciding how to spend their future, today's teenagers are forced to make decisions about drugs and alcohol as early as middle school.

A 2003 survey conducted by the National Drug Intelligence Center revealed that 40 percent of high-schoolers have used marijuana at least once, and 10 percent tried marijuana before age 13.

They are not always in the archetypal dark alley when the situation arises - some say they have been under the fluorescent lights of their school hallway when forced to decide whether to use alcohol or drugs.

Nearly 29 percent of the 7.5 million students surveyed in 2003 said they were offered or sold an illegal drug on school property. And 6 percent even admitted to smoking marijuana on school property.

Our Hall County high-schoolers are no different.

The Times interviewed seven high school students ranging in age from 15 to 18, and under the promise of anonymity, the students divulged the very information they aim to keep secret from their parents.

Between those seven students, drug and alcohol habits ranged from complete sobriety to only four days of sobriety in one month.

Not surprisingly, most students say that the majority of their peers have experimented with alcohol by the age of 16.

"Marla," a high school junior, said she believes 75 percent of juniors at her school drink alcohol. Marla, an honors student and an athlete, says she does not often participate in the party scene, but she is aware of its existence. Although she limits her high school experimentation to occasional drinking, she says her ex-boyfriend was a drug dealer and used methamphetamine.

"Sarah," 18, said she began drinking alcohol when she was in middle school, mixing vodka and Kool-Aid in a water bottle. She says she may drink about twice a month, but she does not go out looking for a buzz. The situation just presents itself, she says.

Just a few weeks ago, Sarah tried marijuana for the first time when her friends were smoking it on a school break. She said she tried marijuana to have something different to do than her regular routine.

"I was going to try it," Sarah said. "I just wanted to know how it feels. I'm curious."

"One of my friends was like, ‘Yeah, I got some weed,' she rolled it up and I was like, ‘Sure, why not?' and puff, puff, pass," Sarah recalled.

Not seeming overly impressed with the drug, Sarah said the experience was "all right." But Sarah - who says she could easily find drugs in her school or in her neighborhood if she wanted them - is not opposed to smoking marijuana again.

Some of the students who spoke to The Times say they choose to stay away from drugs and drinking, for one reason or the other.

But even those who have chosen to abstain fail to escape an experience with alcohol and drugs. "Dell," a 17-year-old senior, chooses not to drink, but he has plenty of friends who do.

"Brinkley," a 17-year-old senior, says she does not drink or do drugs, because of her religion and her desire to stay out of trouble. When she is presented with the opportunity to drink - and she has been presented with the opportunity - she is ready to say "no."

"I have to stand up for what I believe in," said Brinkley. "I know that my parents would be really disappointed in me if I did that."

Dell says he stays away from alcohol, because he wants to avoid the consequences. He knows people who have ruined their lives by means of alcohol and other drugs, and friends who have ruined their reputations in a night of drunken decision-making.

Often, Dell finds himself at parties where other high schoolers are drinking alcohol. He says he feels obligated to stick around and take care of his inebriated friends.

"If you start drinking at 16, then by the time you're a senior, you're going to drink every weekend," he said.

But even he has been tempted to give it a try.

"I think a lot of parents are oblivious and think their child isn't doing it," Dell said.

Dell said high-schoolers often bring clear liquor to school, prom or after-school events and can easily disguise it in water bottles.

"(Teachers and administrators) think just because it's in a water bottle, it must be water," Dell said. "You can walk down the hall any day and see kids messed up."

Dell said teens go to great lengths to hide their drug and alcohol use. "Jade," an aspiring journalist, says she chooses to get high on drugs that are not found in a routine drug screen.

She said she has taken Delsym cough syrup on roughly 40 different occasions to get high. Delsym is her drug of choice.

"It just makes everything feel so exciting," Jade said. "One time, I thought I was a sheet of paper."

Despite her frequent desire to alter her state of mind, Jade said she takes precautions when trying new drugs. For that reason, Jade says she will never use drugs like heroin or cocaine.

"I do research on them before I do them," she said. "I don't want to die."

Some teens say they choose marijuana over alcohol. Not needing to prove their age to purchase the drug makes it convenient, and its effects are usually easier to hide, they say.

"You don't get ID'd for pot," Sarah said. "I can find it my neighborhood."

One thing nearly all students interviewed agreed on is that prescription pills now contend with alcohol and marijuana as the drug of choice for teens. Those interviewed said their peers think prescription drugs are safer to use, because they come from a doctor.

"Prescription drugs are a whole different issue," Dell said. "You can get prescription drugs easily; like, if you get your wisdom teeth taken out, you can get Loratab or Percosets."

"People think since it's from a doctor, it's more accepted," said "Elliott," 16, who has been arrested for selling prescription drugs on school property.

Brinkley said some high school students take prescription drugs during school so they can space out or sleep during class to make school bearable.

Elliott and Dell said students can get prescription drugs such as Zanax, Oxycodone or Oxycontin by stealing it from their parents or buying it from friends at school.

They said that many kids are also prescribed drugs such as Adderrall that they can sell to peers for profit.

Jade said she stole prescribed morphine vials from her mother, selling them to friends at school for up to $30 a pop. It was not hard to hide her transaction from school authorities.

"I just had it in my hand and I'd walk down the hall and grab someone's hand for a minute and keep walking with them and slip it off to them, and that was it," Jade said.

And if these teens want drugs, they are easily accessible, they say.

"I can come to school and find just about any drug I want," Elliott said, who said he sold Oxycodone to kids at school for $20 each.

But teenagers are experiencing more than the run-of-the-mill booze, pills and pot while on campus.

"I saw crack for the first time at (my high school)," Jade said. "I was in 9th grade and this guy showed it to me and asked me if I wanted some."

"I was shocked honestly. I thought, ‘Yeah, pot, but crack?'"

Jade said she reported the crack sighting to school administrators, but did was not aware of any investigation of the student who had the crack cocaine, even though she told administrators his name and which teacher's class he was in. She said she saw the same student selling the substance to an acquaintance a week later.

"I lost a lot of respect for people that day, especially administrators," Jade said.

Elliott said he has seen multiple drugs, such as mushrooms, on school grounds.

Brinkley, an abstinent Christian, says school administrators should take more measures to punish teenagers who use drugs and alcohol while at school or at all.

"I don't think there's enough discipline for drugs and alcohol that goes on at school," Brinkley said. "I think they should drug-test everybody, not just athletes."

Some of the teenagers interviewed had too much to lose to use drugs and alcohol: their status on sports teams, their grades, their freedom.
For now, random drug testing is what keeps Elliott from his drug of choice, marijuana. After his arrest, Elliott says he would rather pass a drug test than risk getting in trouble.

The consensus among the teens interviewed was that they draw the line at hard drugs such as crack, methamphetamine and heroin, although some of them said they knew someone who used meth or cocaine.

Yet, all of them had different views on drugs, why they choose to use or not to use and their beliefs on the consequences.

Some said they stayed away from drugs after attending courses like the DARE program, while others thought the program was full of scare tactics and unrealistic information.

Some say their parents are aware of the temptation of drugs and alcohol, requiring them to check in often. Those teenagers say there are not many chances for them to get drunk or high.

They say it is easy to use when their parents are at work or asleep. They are able to make their grades and keep their parents completely unaware.

"My mom has no idea," Jade said. "If she did, she would never let me out of the house again."

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