Eight teens hospitalized after taking drug at school

Officials say girl offered Valium-like pills at lunch

May 13, 1999|By Devon Spurgeon | Devon Spurgeon,SUN STAFF

An eighth-grade girl and seven classmates were sent to Anne Arundel County hospitals yesterday after they ingested tablets of anti-anxiety medicine she handed out during lunch period, officials said.

The 13- and 14-year-old pupils at Severn River Junior High School took Ativan, a drug prescribed for anxiety disorders that relaxes the muscles. Ativan's chemical name is Lorazepam.

"I was scared and I went and I told," said 13-year-old Kara Zoolakis, who told administrators that the group had eaten the white pentagon-shaped tablets during lunch. "They are going to be mad at me but I don't really care as long as they are OK. I'm sure their parents are going to get pretty mad."

A 13-year-old girl carried the pills into school in a film canister and handed them out to friends, according to Phil Weller, a 14-year-old pupil.

"Some of the other kids in school were asking for it but she said she ran out," he said.

The group was acting strangely at lunch, talking loudly, throwing things and jumping around in the cafeteria, classmates said.

Another pupil, Karen Powroznik, said most of those in the group had taken more than one pill. One girl had a reaction where her eyes bulged and she seemed disoriented, Powroznik said.

"She was going down the hall saying, `I'm swimming, I'm swimming,' " Powroznik said.

A girl who took one of the Valium-like pills was taken to the office just before dismissal at 2: 30 p.m., said Huntley J. Cross, special assistant for school discipline. Administrators learned that seven others had taken the medication. The school nurse checked their blood pressure and vital signs and called 911.

Hospital attendants found the pupils "conscious but somewhat confused," according to county police. Three girls and one boy were taken to Anne Arundel County Medical Center in Annapolis and three girls and a boy went to North Arundel Hospital in Glen Burnie, arriving about 4 p.m.

Emergency room doctors had them drink large glasses of liquified activated charcoal. The thick, black liquid was designed to absorb remnants of the drug, said Mary Lou Baker, spokeswoman for Anne Arundel Medical Center.

Parents rushed into emergency rooms asking for information about their children. At Anne Arundel Medical Center, relatives and friends of the teen-agers paced outside the emergency room talking on cell phones and waiting for news.

Relief quickly turned into anger. One hospital official put it this way: "The mothers were mad as wet hens."

A family friend shrugged: "It's just kids being kids, is all I can say."

All four of the pupils taken to Annapolis were awake and aware of what was happening. The main symptom of the drug was drowsiness, which especially affected the thinnest of the four girls. They sat in wheelchairs in the bustling emergency room as police officers and parents asked questions.

The teen-agers were kept under observation for several hours and released last night. They could face more trouble today.

Possession and consumption of drugs or alcohol at school is punishable by suspension on first offense, Cross said. Distribution is punishable by expulsion.

No criminal charges have been filed. County police say they are investigating.

Sun staff writers Neal Thompson, TaNoah Morgan and Andrea F. Siegel contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 5/13/99

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