Parents: Drug use rampant among Eagle County teens
December 17, 2007
EAGLE COUNTY ” A culture of rampant drug and alcohol use has been thriving at Eagle County high schools for years, parents say, and now they’re ready to clean up the valley.
Simply put, drugs and alcohol have become the center of high school social life in Eagle County. Those who abstain are often teased and pushed away from friends, and many students voluntarily isolate themselves from the drug- and booze-fueled parties that are commonplace on weekends.
The drug culture has become accepted as normal among students, and the many student who don’t like it are often afraid to take a stand, although they are desperate for change.
“It’s excessive. My kids don’t really know anyone that doesn’t use something,” said Margaret Olle, parent of a student at Battle Mountain High School in Eagle-Vail.
And while schools and law enforcement agencies have been increasingly diligent in enforcing drug laws ” parents say the community as a whole has been slow to realize how common teen drug and alcohol use is in the valley.
“The problem thrived in secrecy,” said Janet De Clark, a parent at Battle Mountain High School. “If you are a parent and your child has been in trouble, you don’t want to say anything about it.”
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Parents are starting to talk openly about the problem, though, and a recently flurry of action from parent groups and school administrators point to a more serious crack-down on substance abuse.
Battle Mountain High School has taken the lead in addressing the teen drug problems in the valley. A forum recently hosted by Battle Mountain High School’s accountability committee gathered law enforcement officers and medical professionals to talk to parents about teen drug and alcohol use, and the talks prompted some quick results.
Most importantly, parents started opening up to each other, and stories about how drugs were affecting families started coming out, De Clark said. Parents eventually found some comfort in realizing that everyone was going through the same problems, she said.
“The best thing we realized is to get together and talk about it and to not be judgmental,” De Clark said. “Even if you have a child that is not a partier, they’re facing this every single day at school. They sit next to kids who do party and use drugs.”
A group of parents immediately joined together to develop a Safe Homes Network for students, which requires parents to sign a pledge saying they won’t allow drugs and alcohol in their homes and that they’ll closely watch parties for drug and alcohol use. This parent group will also focus on developing education programs and finding counseling for kids who find themselves in trouble.
Battle Mountain has also been exploring new policies and programs to address the drug problem. The most prominent change will be a random drug testing policy being developed for students in extra curricular activities.
Principal Brian Hester said the school has dedicated more time and resources over the past couple years to finding and helping students caught or suspected of using drugs.
The front office has become busier. More students who use drugs and alcohol are getting caught, and lots of time is dedicated to investigating where students got their drugs, how often they use and who else is using, said assistant principal Philip Qualman. Teachers, counselors, nurses and even students are joining in to report drug and alcohol use, Hester said.
Drug dogs make regular visits to the parking lots, and taking a breathalyzer test is required for students to enter school events like prom. Teachers are receiving training in how to recognize students who may be using drugs by the way they act and look.
Hester said he hopes to gradually engage the students and get them involved in the fight against drugs and alcohol. Many students are tired of it and want to see change, he said.
The drug problem is seen at all different levels ” there are kids who don’t use at all and have become socially isolated. There are kids who have tried it once and never again, there are those who drink and use drugs occasionally at weekend parties, and there are those who are developing serious problems, the kind that can damage their lives.
So no matter if a student uses or not, if they use just a little or have become a constant abuser, it’s hard for them to escape the culture, parents say.
The Eagle Valley is a small community. Students run into each other at movie theaters, restaurants and ski slopes. There aren’t the normal cliques you see at larger high schools, De Clark said.
De Clark said she knows of students who were a part of the drug culture, and had a hard time pulling out because they didn’t’ want to lose their friends. Over time, she hopes to see a change in the attitude of students to where drug use isn’t the accepted normal any more, to where it isn’t “cool.”
And, this being a resort community, a place where people come to party and have fun, many people seem ambivalent to the idea of drugs.
“How many of us have gone through the cloud of pot smoke on the ski lifts?” De Clark said.