Parents get lesson on signs of drug use

Street-smart talk stresses early intervention at Centennial High meeting

Howard County

October 05, 2003|By Gus G. Sentementes | Gus G. Sentementes,SUN STAFF

The parents gathered at Centennial High School in Ellicott City carefully studied samples of marijuana, crack and cocaine. They also inspected drug paraphernalia, such as plastic baggies and smoking pipes.

The drug artifacts, supplied by Detective Jeff Ferra, a Howard County narcotics officer, were props in his street-smart discussion of how parents should handle the issue of drugs with their teen-agers and the warning signs that should trigger their concern.

"At some point, they're ready to listen, and you need to be ready with information," Ferra advised the crowd of about 30 parents Thursday night. "The biggest thing is just be ready with an answer. Learn about [drugs] so you can say more than, `It's bad for you ... you're grounded.'"

Ferra helped kick off a speaker series organized by HC DrugFree, a partnership of parents, educators, county agencies and other community organizations concerned with substance abuse among teen-agers. The annual series, which is held at Howard County high schools, will run through early next year.

Tom Cargiulo, the director of substance abuse services for the county Health Department, also gave a presentation about the stages of drug addiction, how drug use affects the brain and the scope of the drug problem - including alcohol abuse - in Howard County.

"Our biggest concern is alcohol," Cargiulo told the parents.

Cargiulo discussed recent trends in drug abuse in the county. One concern, he said, is that authorities are "starting to see cocaine and heroin in younger ages, like sixth grade, that we haven't seen in the past."

Another concern, he said, involves the use of high-intensity caffeine drinks and over-the-counter caffeine pills as a legal way to get a "buzz."

Cargiulo emphasized the importance of early intervention "so that [teens] don't wind up getting arrested, wind up getting kicked off a sports team, or wind up wrapping a car around a tree - or dying."

In addition to street drugs, such as crack cocaine, marijuana and Ecstasy - a popular club drug among teens - Cargiulo warned about prescription drugs that are abused in Howard, such as OxyContin, a pain reliever, and Ritalin, a stimulant typically prescribed for children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

OxyContin is often a substitute for heroin, while Ritalin pills are crushed and then snorted for a high, Cargiulo said.

Knowing not just about the various drugs and their effects but also the signs of drug use is critical, according to Ferra, the Howard officer.

"Inspect their car. Does it smell funny?" Ferra told parents. Another warning sign: teen-agers sucking on pacifiers. Users of Ecstasy like to use pacifiers because the drug induces them to grind their teeth, he said.

For Dan Schulman, parent of a Centennial High sophomore and head of the school's Parent- Teacher Association, the presentations Thursday reaffirmed his belief that there's a "tremendous need for education in this area for parents."

"I thought the most valuable part was to get educated and talk to kids," Schulman said. "It's really our responsibility ... to not be in denial."

A schedule of free events can be found at HC DrugFree's Web site,

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