Flower Mound Leader > News
Area officials look to discuss youth drug problem
Area leaders have heard stories of how drug use has taken the lives of the young.
The stories are the same across the country.
But when the deaths happen in Flower Mound and neighboring communities, they hit a little closer to home.
From 2009 to 2011, there were at least 22 individuals age 23 or younger in Denton County who died of a drug overdose or a drug-related incident, according to the Tarrant County Medical Examiner's Office.
Flower Mound Mayor Tom Hayden and council members have heard about the teens and young adults from North Texas who have died in recent years from drug overdoses.
When Hayden and council members Bryan Webb and Steve Dixon ran for and won their current positions in last spring’s elections, they said addressing the drug problem among area youth was one of their priorities. Newly elected Denton County Sheriff William Travis has vowed to address the issue as well.
"When I talk to parents about this, they say this problem is so much greater than what is being discussed," Hayden said.
So as the council members prepare for their strategic planning session next weekend, they plan to find a way to get the community involved in tackling the problem.
“We need to bring the parents to the table,” Dixon said. “They can bring up real-life situations and real-life solutions on how to make this better. So many times, it's the elected officials up there holding the discussion, but this needs to be flipped. Let the experts come up with ideas, and then they ask us how are we going to get it done. I don't have a problem with us being at the table at first. But get the parents and the experts into the room so they can say they have good ideas. I want us to be the tool to implement it."
Dixon said he envisions a committee much larger than what is often formed to address issues.
"I don't want a blue ribbon committee, I want it bigger," Dixon said. "It should be put together with people who live through this problem 24/7, 365 days a year. That way, they can tell us, 'No, this idea won't work, and I know because I have 20 years of experience.'"
Dixon said he wants the discussion to also include people from Lewisville and Highland Village.
Webb said the key is to have a mix of people in the discussion, such as law enforcement, church leaders, counselors, etc.
“Sometimes the police department’s message clicks with people. Sometimes a family message does,” Webb said. “The more times we can get the message out, the greater opportunity we have to connect with kids at a time that they need to hear this message.”
Drugs in the community
Officials say drugs have been in the community for years, but the number of recent deaths in the area associated with drug use has brought the problem to the forefront.
Kathy O’Keefe, the mother of a child who died of an accidental overdose in 2010, started an organization called Winning the Fight (WTF), which provides support to those who have been impacted by drug use, as well as education and drug awareness to the community.
She has spent the last three years urging the community to be vigilant about drug use among teenagers and watches the local and national statistics closely.
According to the medical examiner's office, there were at least five Flower Mound residents ages 15-22 who died of a drug overdose between 2009 and 2011.
From 2009-2011, there were at least three overdose fatalities in Lewisville and Highland Village where the victim was 23 or younger.
In 2012, there was at least one overdose death in Flower Mound, a 24-year-old woman. There was also at least one drug-related death in Highland Village from a 21-year-old, one in Lewisville (23), two in Argyle (22 and 35), two in Carrollton (17 and 19) and one in Grapevine (18).
More recently, two Grapevine teens who attended Carroll Senior High School in Southlake died as a result of a mixed drug toxicity, which consisted of heroin, codeine (a pain medicine), alprazolam (better known as Xanax) and diphenhydramine (an antihistamine.) A 20-year-old girl from Rhome died of an overdose Jan. 21 of this year.
The problem became more public in May 2011 when Flower Mound police busted a heroin ring with ties to Flower Mound. There were 17 people arrested, most ranging in age from 18 to 21. Police said none of them were Lewisville ISD students, but police said three of Flower Mound’s deaths in 2010 are connected to these individuals.
"We are finding more juveniles with narcotics," said Capt. Wess Griffin of the Flower Mound Police Department.
According to statistics released by the police department, there were 15 juvenile arrests made on drug charges in 2012. That represents 39 percent of all juvenile arrests. But Griffin said that's because other juvenile crimes often lead to a warning, whereas drug incidents always lead to an arrest.
But Griffin also noted that juvenile drug arrests that year represented 0.5 percent of all arrests.
But the availability of drugs for teens is still scary, Hayden said.
“I’ve been told that if I wanted to buy cheese [a mix of heroin and a sleeping aid], if I have $20, I’ll get it in 20 minutes,” Hayden said.
Drugs in schools?
Officials have heard stories about drug use on LISD campuses -- designated places at Marcus and Flower Mound high schools where students would smoke marijuana, drug deals taking place in the back of classrooms.
“There is a drug issue in most junior highs and high schools in the United States,” Dixon said. “And we’re not immune to it. In Anytown, USA, at junior highs and high schools, they have a problem.”
Multiple students who attend Flower Mound schools say they have seen drug activity in schools. One student at Flower Mound High School, who requested not to be identified, said students often smoke marijuana in areas off campus and that they occasionally come to class high.
"Certain ones come in high every day," the student said. "Some do, some don't."
The student said "hard-core" drug use is very limited at the school but that smoking weed is widespread.
"There's not a huge drug problem," the student said, "but you can't target a certain audience because everybody [smokes marijuana]. It's not just one group. There's no containing it because everybody does it, which is what makes it harder to control."
Students selling prescription drugs to each other on campus is also a common occurance, the student said, adding that the ease of drug activity makes the problem continue.
"It's easy to get, easy to transport and easy to hide," the student said. "There aren't many people getting busted."
Flower Mound police, however, say constant monitoring takes place at the schools but that a lot of the stories that have circulated about drugs on local campuses are unfounded.
Sgt. Collin Sullivan said he has heard many of the same stories, including there being a space above a ceiling tile in a Marcus restroom where students would stash marijuana.
"When I ask teachers in all the time that they've been there, have they smelled marijuana in the school, seen drugs in the tiles or have any first-hand knowledge of it, and they say no," Sullivan said. "When I ask if they have heard of students using drugs, they say yes. I would guess the truth is somewhere in between."
While Flower Mound police say just one drug-related incident is too many, they urge people to look at the statistics before concluding Flower Mound’s schools have a drug problem.
According to police records, of the five middle schools, four had one or no incidents from the 2008-09 school year to 2011-12. McKamy had three -- two arrests for possession of marijuana in 2009-10 and one citation for possession of drug paraphernalia in 2011-12.
At Flower Mound High School, there were 15 incidents in the four years, including eight in 2009-10. Six of those were for possession of marijuana, and two were for possession of a controlled substance.
Marcus High School had 14 incidents in the same timeframe, with seven arrests in 2010-11 (five for marijuana, two for a controlled substance).
Also, statistics show that student resource officers at FMHS issued eight citations for minor in possession of alcohol during that timeframe, and MHS resource officers issued six citations for the same offense.
Police note that only one of the Flower Mound teens who died of an overdose was enrolled in an LISD school at the time, however.
Webb said even though nearly all of the overdose deaths were not by current LISD students, addressing the problem would still help local teens.
“The issue is still there,” Webb said. “It’s not just Flower Mound teens but young people all around with their lives in front of them. Many [of the teens who overdosed] had ties to the community. That tells me this is worthy of a discussion. Just because they didn’t live here, maybe they had ties here. If they used drugs and had friends in Flower Mound, my guess is that their friends in Flower Mound are using drugs, too.”
Calvin Bond, assistant special agent in charge for the DEA, said that in the 1990s, Dallas used to merely be a transit area between drug shipments from Mexico to Chicago, Atlanta and the East Coast.
Now, he said, there are drug cartel members in the Dallas/Fort Worth area exercising command and control over drug shipments throughout the U.S.
Bond stated that the Mexican drug cartels smuggle cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana into the DFW area.
Flower Mound police say drug use in the town has not increased over the years on a per capita basis, though it has changed.
For example, Sullivan said the most popular drug choice among teenagers, behind alcohol and marijuana, is prescription drugs.
"It's more prevalent because there is more access to it," Sullivan said. "We're seeing people get prescribed pills and then selling it in the community. Also, parents and adults don't always take all of the medication, so it goes in the medicine cabinet. Teenagers then gain access to it."
Bond said according to a statewide survey among teens, 21 percent of the respondents said they have used a prescription drug without a prescription. He said that includes Oxycontin, Vicodin and Xanax. Bond said the instances of prescription drugs offered, sold or given to another student on campus is 26 percent.
Bond said many children get their first taste of prescription drug abuse from friends or someone they know before it becomes a problem.
Officials said it is important to treat prescription drugs as they would any other drug.
“Most parents aren’t talking to their kids about prescription drug problems,” Bond said. “They’re doing a good job of talking about marijuana and alcohol use, but the rest of it is probably not being talked about very often.”
Griffin said marijuana is dangerous because it is a gateway drug.
“Drug use starts at a lower level,” Griffin said. “Then users move up to harder things.”
Griffin said while a small percentage of teens use heroin, the drug is still on the police's radar as well because of how dangerous it is.
"Once you start it, it finishes you," Griffin said. "You have to increase the doses to get the same high. Once you try it, you're an addict."
Griffin added that while there is heroin use in Flower Mound, it's mostly being sold in the larger cities. But he said it's still too easy to get.
"It's cheap and abundant," he said.
Officials said parent involvement has many facets, including checking cell phones.
“Track their communication,” Bond said. “If kids are involved in this, they have to communicate with a buyer. Often times they’ll text each other to arrange a meeting to discuss a price.”
Bond said things to watch for include change of behavior, loss of inhibition, constant demand for privacy and secretive phone calls.
Bond added text abbreviations should be examined. He said “MOS” means mother over shoulder; “PIR” means parent in the room. “CD9” means parents are around. “PRW” means parents are watching.
“Cell phone and Internet access are key,” Griffin said. “If your child has free reign over the Internet and their cell phone, you have no idea what they can be doing. Now, it’s so easy.”
Police say searches shouldn’t stop at cell phones and should include various apps and even video games, where teens can communicate with each other.
Officials said being too protective is better than not being protective enough.
They said parents should also be aware of the changing drug trends. Bond said that while prescription drugs are easy to obtain in the family medicine cabinet, other products that appear innocent could be around the house as well.
Bond pointed to synthetic marijuana disguised as incense as another drug teens are using. He said most drug tests don’t pick it up, and because of a slight change of molecules during production, they’re technically legal. He added that there are hundreds of brands of this type of product, such as K-2.
Bond said parents should watch for products like that, as well as various items used for drug use: creative-looking pipes, aluminum foil, matches and spoons, as well as the more obvious ones such as mirrors with razor blades and syringes.
He added that watching for bruises on the child’s body is also important, though he said teens are coming up with new places to inject themselves, such as under their fingernails and toenails.
Efforts going forward
WTF continues to meet every Tuesday night at Faith Lutheran Church, and members constantly provide information about drug use and how to deal with the problem through web postings and community events.
“We need to educate the kids not to do drugs,” O’Keefe said. “And we need to educate the parents that there are drugs out there. We need to acknowledge that there is a problem at all levels. If kids are smoking pot in the school parking lots, then we don’t have enough eyes out there.”
Travis said a tougher stance is needed at the schools.
“We need to do a better job of this,” Travis said. “Rather than conducting a sting and calling it a day, we need to be more proactive.”
Travis said he has plans to meet with Dr. Stephen Waddell, LISD superintendent, to come up with some ideas.
“I don’t want to do anything to disrupt school,” Travis said. “But I think there are things we can do to not disrupt class.”
The police department has its own set of initiatives to combat drugs in the community, such as its priority response unit (PRU). The PRU conducts investigations and sting operations, and it meets with Lewisville ISD counselors to discuss the situation.
Sullivan is also a member of the LISD Choices-Safe and Drug Free Program, which offers many classes and discussions for students and families about how to stay drug free.
The town also created the Flower Mound Alcohol and tobacco Enforcement (FATE) program, a joint effort with retailers that aims to reduce the sell of alcohol and tobacco products to minors. The town, in conjunction with LISD, also hosts a medication disposal day twice a year.
Hayden said he would like to talk with LISD about re-implementing its random drug testing program, which ran for two years before stopping in 2010. LISD officials said it wasn’t worth the money because it didn’t produce the results they had hoped for.
“We can talk about the success rate not being there, the cost, etc,” Hayden said. “But when you have something in place where students could get caught, it will discourage drug use. If it’s a money issue, I think the families of LISD would support drug testing.”
Town leaders say a community-wide meeting is the best place to start. That includes city, county, church and business leaders, area police departments, drug counselors and, of course, the families who have lived through this. The brainstorming will begin Feb. 9.
“It’s always someone else’s problem until it’s theirs,” Hayden said. “This is something that needs to be talked about all the time.”