Overdose possible in death of teen Autopsy requested

father found boy, 15, in their home

Crisis team to aid students

Drug use worries school officials in Westminster

January 13, 1998|By Mike Farabaugh and Anne Haddad | Mike Farabaugh and Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

A Westminster teen-ager who was found dead at home Friday morning apparently died of a drug overdose, city police said.

Liam A. O'Hara, 15, was a 10th-grader at Westminster High School. Police said the boy's father found him about 7: 30 a.m.

"We're treating the death as a possible overdose and have requested an autopsy by the state medical examiner to determine the cause of death," said Lt. Dean Brewer, a police spokesman.

Brewer would not say what drug is suspected. Toxicology results generally take two to four weeks, he said.

Michael O'Hara said yesterday that he would not discuss his son's death.

"I will communicate my feelings in person to the community about what has happened," he said. "We do not fully understand what has happened yet, and I will await the results of the autopsy before I begin letting people know how I feel about what has happened."

At Westminster High, a crisis team has been available to students and staff members since Friday, said Gregory Eckles, director of secondary education.

Crisis teams assemble when there is a death of a student or other tragedy. The teams are made up of school counselors, a student-personnel worker and, in some cases, psychologists or faculty members.

The team is available to any student who wants to talk.

Another Westminster High student died in early August. Thomas W. McDonald, 16, was found dead in a car behind a Westminster shopping center, the victim of inhaling potpourri-scented air freshener.

Eckles said school officials are concerned about drug use, especially the increase in heroin use.

"It is really troubling, and not just in the schools. I look at it from a personal standpoint as much as an administrator: What can we in the community do?"

In November, after police arrested a 17-year-old Carroll County boy and two adults on charges of possession of heroin and other drugs and distribution to 80 to 100 students at Westminster and North Carroll high schools, State's Attorney Jerry F. Barnes said police had "crushed the heroin connection into Carroll County and to our children."

Barnes called it one of the most serious drug seizures and arrests in county history.

None of the alleged drug dealing occurred in Carroll schools, police said, although most of the customers were students.

Eckles said all high schools have drug symposiums and that students learn about substance abuse in ninth-grade health and 10th-grade biology classes, which all students need to graduate.

The schools are cooperating with the state's attorney to search student parking lots with drug-sniffing police dogs. The searches have turned up drugs, but no heroin, Eckles said.

Barnes said he spent most of yesterday at Oklahoma Road Middle School in Eldersburg, teaching a lesson on drug abuse to about 150 seventh-grade students.

The biennial Maryland Adolescent Survey, which asks students to anonymously report their drug and alcohol use, found a relatively recent rise in use in Carroll County and use among a higher percentage of students than the statewide average.

In 1992, no county high school seniors reported using heroin in the previous 30 days. In 1994, 2.6 percent reported using it in that time, and in 1996, the figure rose to 2.9 percent. The state average for that group is 1.6 percent.

About 5.2 percent of those seeking substance-abuse counseling from Junction Inc., a Westminster-based organization, are addicted to heroin, said Olivia Myers, executive director.

Myers said the percentage does not seem to be increasing but that there are more adolescents and fewer adults among its clients.

Last month, after state and local police broke up a marijuana and cocaine network that stretched from Mexico to Canada through eight states -- with distribution points in Reisterstown and Westminster -- state police and the Carroll County Chiefs of Police Association co-sponsored a Forum Against Drug Trafficking. Promulgated through the schools and by invitation to community business leaders, the town meeting Dec. 18 was attended by fewer than 100 people.

Lt. Terry Katz of the state police Criminal Intelligence Division in Columbia, said drugs "are in Carroll County but have not yet reached an epidemic proportion."

Pub Date: 1/13/98

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