Drug reality served up for crowd

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 6, 2001

Before a crowd ten times larger than expected, anti-drug forces from law enforcement, health care and government talked Monday about the emotional, legal, physical and social effects of Freeborn County’s growing teen drug problem.

Tuesday, February 06, 2001

Before a crowd ten times larger than expected, anti-drug forces from law enforcement, health care and government talked Monday about the emotional, legal, physical and social effects of Freeborn County’s growing teen drug problem.

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About 300 parents and community members attended the Freeborn County Drug and Alcohol Awareness Committee’s informational meeting and resource fair on adolescent drug abuse at the Albert Lea High School.

The theme: Parents and community members need to know about drugs – because even if they don’t, their kids do.

&uot;We learn about all this stuff, but I guess it’s a lot more informative for parents, to know what their kids are using,&uot; said ALHS junior Josh Quinlivan, who attended the meeting. &uot;Because the kids know.&uot;

Quinlivan estimated that 75 percent of his peers have tried drugs or alcohol.

And the problem touches every corner of the community.

&uot;There is not one group of kids that anyone on this stage can point to as drug users, there is not one socioeconomic class that anyone can point to,&uot; said Assistant County Attorney Erin O’Brien. &uot;All of our children are at risk.&uot;

Armed with information and experience, the experts told the audience about an evolving and growing drug culture among adolescents – and how they could spot symptoms in kids they know.

&uot;Every drug imaginable&uot;

Detective Gene Arnold has worked with the Albert Lea Police Department more than 20 years. For the last 13 years, he has worked on the South Central Drug Task Force, investigating controlled substance crimes in six counties including Freeborn County.

When he started working on the drug task force, marijuana was far and away the most common drug, he said. Next came cocaine and crank, or methamphetamine. Today, the variety of drugs available has grown even more.

&uot;Albert Lea has got every drug imaginable out there,&uot; Arnold said.

&uot;There’s a million things I could stand up here and tell you to look for,&uot; he said.

Marijuana and alcohol are now the most popular drugs among teenagers, said Albert Lea Police Department school liaison Bill Villareal

Advanced cultivating techniques have made marijuana much more potent than it was 30 years ago, Arnold said, holding up a quart bag of hydroponically grown marijuana, or &uot;skunk&uot; with a street value of $4,000.

Kids smoke marijuana using pop cans, baby food jars, and an endless array of pipes and water pipes, or bongs, he said. They use aerators from water faucets for screens, make dugout pipes in shop class, and have begun converting markers and highlighters into discreet marijuana pipes.

&uot;There’s a lot of items that you can look for that might not seem very suspicious in nature, unless you know what you’re looking for,&uot; Arnold said.

Kids keep bongs in car trunks, and rolling papers in their wallet, Villareal said. But other signs of possible drug abuse could seem unrelated.

&uot;If you look at the end of a metal coat hanger and the end of it is coated with a tarry substance, they’re using it to clean (pipes)&uot; Arnold said. &uot;Just like you’re cleaning a gun.&uot;

Some users will carry eye drops to mask bloodshot eyes, or try to hide use in other ways.

&uot;I shake down kids almost every single day in this school … one thing I do find quite often is cologne,&uot; Villareal said. &uot;They carry cologne with them to mask the smell.&uot;

Marijuana affects the user’s mid-term memory, making memorization and school work more difficult. It also can make teenagers careless when it comes to hiding their use, Arnold said.

&uot;When you’re washing their clothes and all the sudden you’re finding (drug-related) items are falling out, that’s why.&uot; he said. &uot;It’s not like they wanted you to find it.&uot;

Methamphetamine is an increasingly popular drug, because it is relatively cheap and easy to make, Arnold said.

Precursors can be found at local hardware and grocery stores, and it only takes a short time to make.

&uot;I used to pay kids to go out and get me recipes for methamphetamine,&uot; Arnold said. &uot;Do you know where they went? The public library.&uot;

Recipes for making methamphetamine abound on the Internet, Arnold said.

Smoking Methamphetamine is becoming more common, he said. Users will set the drug on a square of aluminum foil, light the bottom of the foil, and inhale the fumes using an empty toilet paper tube.

&uot;We find these all the time in garbage cans in kids’ bedrooms,&uot; he said.

Medical effects

Drugs can affect users’ health directly or indirectly, said Steven Weise, an emergency-room doctor at Albert Lea Medical Center for 12 years.

Often times, users will suffer direct medical consequences of drug and alcohol use, Weise said. Like the young adult who has a heart attack because of cocaine and amphetamine use.

He has seen young people come to the emergency room suffering from chest pains and a racing heartbeat. Tests show amounts of cocaine and amphetamine in their system.

&uot;There is no way that this patient, that has no other risk factors for heart disease, should be having a heart attack,&uot; Weise said.

Other effects of drug and alcohol use are less direct, Weise said. Suicide attempts, accidents or sexual assaults can all be influenced by drug and alcohol use.

It is not uncommon for parents to bring their children to urgent care or the emergency room to have them undergo a drug test, but the hospital prefers they see their regular physician for the test unless it’s a true emergency, Weise said.

&uot;If a teenager refuses to be tested, we cannot force them to undergo a drug screen unless a medical reason exists,&uot; he said.

Legal consequences

Of the more than 3,000 juvenile matters referred to the Law Enforcement Center between July 1997 and 2000, 25 percent involved drugs, alcohol, or tobacco as the primary charge, O’Brien said. That does not include cases where drugs or alcohol were considered incidental to a larger case. Behaviors like theft and property damage are often drug related, she said.

Juveniles were involved in 13 percent of all drug abuse violations nationwide in 1999, she said.

&uot;Freeborn County statistics are not that different than what is happening nationwide, and our trends are the same,&uot; O’Brien said.

Children could be detained, placed out of home and charged as adults.

&uot;If a juvenile is caught with drugs in their car, or caught with money in one pocket and drugs in their other pocket, they may lose their car and their cash,&uot; O’ Brien said.

Sometimes people get mad because the court system is too easy on juvenile offenders, giving them &uot;a slap on the wrist,&uot; O’Brien said. But that is all the court can do under statute in many juvenile cases.

For example, the court can only order inpatient alcohol treatment at a juvenile’s third offense. That is too late to be effective, O’Brien said.


Milan Hart knows firsthand the kind of devastation drugs can wreak on a family. His son, Milan Winchester Hart, was sentenced to four years in prison on second-degree felony drug charges. It was his first offense.

&uot;One of the fallacies the kids have today is they don’t think they will go to prison the first time they get caught,&uot; Hart said. &uot;Well it’s a new world, because of a new drugs.&uot;

When their son started having mood swings, staying away from the house, and fighting with his mother, the Harts just thought he was going through some sort of teenaged phase, Hart said.

The entire family suffered because of the emotional, social and financial strains brought on by Milan Winchester’s drug addiction and incarceration, Hart said.

&uot;My wife never really said much, but the twinkle was gone from her eye,&uot; Hart said. &uot;I did the best to run my business, but I felt dead inside.&uot;

&uot;We blamed everybody but the right person. We blamed everybody but my son, because we were the mother bear saying, ‘it couldn’t be my son.’ We were in denial.&uot;

A child’s drug addiction will take a parent’s retirement funds and pride, Hart said. Innocent people, like younger siblings, pay for a child’s addiction socially and emotionally.

If a child has drugs in his parents’ house, police can legally seize the home, Hart said.

&uot;You are responsible for your children,&uot; Hart said. &uot;What he can do is raise the roof from your house.&uot;

After being treated for drug addiction, Milan Winchester is more like his old self, Hart said. In a recent conversation, Hart asked his son what he could have done differently as a father, and while Milan Winchester said he didn’t blame Hart for his drug use, he would have liked it if he had been around more.

&uot;I got wrapped up in my own little vein, and I forgot I had children,&uot; Hart said. &uot;We all do it, but don’t do it. All they really want is you.&uot;

Community answers

Children in our community are using drugs, and ignoring that is not going to make it go away, said Ginny Larson, Administrator of Fountain Centers, a chemical dependency treatment center in Albert Lea.

&uot;Unfortunately, there is no magical potion or bullet we can throw at this issue. There just isn’t,&uot; Larson said.

Parents need to talk to their children about the immediate physical dangers and later cumulative effects of drug abuse, she said.

&uot;We need to set our expectations as parents, as family, as community,&uot; she said.

Parents need to confront children if they exhibit signs of drug abuse, then follow through with appropriate treatment, Larson said.

After that, the community becomes even more important.

&uot;We need to continue to support them, to enforce the expectations that have been set up by the treatment plans,&uot; Larson said.