Thursday, May 23, 2013
Flower Mound police devise new counseling program to wean kids off drugs
From 2009 to 2012, there were at least 35 individuals age 24 or younger in Denton County who died of a drug overdose or a drug-related incident.
FLOWER MOUND In the past, one of the last places a drug user in Flower Mound would run to for help would be law enforcement.
But Flower Mound Police Sergeant Colin Sullivan said maybe that's exactly where they need to seek help.
Sullivan has created a new program to help address the growing drug problem among the town's youth. "I.N. the Know" (Identify and Notify) takes the concept of anonymous tips and combines it with a family discussion and resource availability. Sullivan describes it as a social program and not an enforcement initiative.
Sullivan said the goal of the program is to find the children who are using or are at risk of using drugs and then provide them with the help they need. He said knowing who those children are is a crucial first step.
"We can't wait on this," Sullivan said. "We don't have the luxury of sitting on these names. Neither do the parents or their children. We want to give them a plan."
Sullivan said the program is needed because the drug problem in the community isn't getting better.
From 2009 to 2012, there were at least 35 individuals age 24 or younger in Denton County who died of a drug overdose or a drug-related incident, according to the Tarrant County Medical Examiner's Office. That includes at least six in Flower Mound. Argyle and Highland Village each had one drug-related death of an individual 24 or younger from 2009 to 2012, and Lewisville had five. Carrollton had 10.
Since February of this year, Flower Mound has had three heroin overdoses, including one fatality, which was a 25-year-old male.
Earlier this year, two Grapevine teens who attended Carroll Senior High School in Southlake died as a result of a mixed drug toxicity, which consisted of heroin, codeine (a pain medicine), alprazolam (better known as Xanax), and diphenhydramine (an antihistamine). A 20-year-old girl from Rhome died of an overdose January 21 of this year.
The problem became more public in May 2011 when Flower Mound police busted a heroin ring with ties to Flower Mound. There were 17 people arrested, most ranging in age from 18 to 21. Police said none of them were Lewisville ISD students, but police said three of Flower Mound's deaths in 2010 are connected to these individuals.
"I.N. the Know" works by allowing anyone -- parents, children, teachers, etc. -- to provide anonymous tips to the police department about children who are using drugs.
Police then make contact with that child's parent to discuss the problem and to provide resources, such as information on counselors, Lewisville ISD's Choices program, and support groups, such as Flower Mound-based Winning the Fight. Since this is not an enforcement program, probable cause isn't required to contact the family.
Sullivan said the key to the program's success is first gaining the trust of the community so people know they can give police the name of a child without that child being arrested for drug use.
"Once we have that in place and they feel free to talk to us, we can communicate with the parents and advise them that there may be a problem," Sullivan said. "Then we can give them the resources to help."
Sullivan admits there may be some hesitation to submit a name for fear of "ratting someone out."
"The goal is not putting kids in handcuffs and sending them to jail," Sullivan said, adding that all information will remain confidential. "It is not about getting them suspended from school and kicked off the football team. It's about working with the families and saving lives."
Sullivan said while police will not arrest these children for using drugs, he said there is a distinct difference between the end-users and those who sell drugs.
"If you're dealing drugs, then it's King's X," Sullivan said. "We're still going after you with all that we have."
Sullivan said "I.N. the Know" is a different approach, adding that he's not aware of any other department that is relaxing on the enforcement aspect as a way to improve the intervention component.
But after hearing enough stories, Sullivan knows communication is lacking, and it's needed. He described a recent incident in town when a 16-year-old overdosed on heroin upstairs in his home and spent two days in a coma. Sullivan asked the father how he missed the signs.
"He told me, 'He was making curfew, he was making good grades, he was on the football team and he was working out. You would have missed it, too,'" Sullivan said.
Kathy O'Keefe, founder of Winning the Fight, lost her son, Brett, to a drug overdose in 2010. She said "I.N. the Know" could be a success.
"I think it can be an effective program once someone is identified, but only if the parents use the resource," O'Keefe said. "A lot of parents are probably in denial. I think there is a lack of education right now. People have the concept of 'it's not in my house.' But if the parents use this program to their benefit, I think it has a chance of being really successful."
Leigh Lowrie, whose son is recovering from drug addiction, said she also supports the program. Lowrie has six children who have gone through the Lewisville ISD system, including a daughter who was friends with several of the individuals involved in the heroin ring.
"What astounds me is that everyone knows who is doing drugs," Lowrie said. "And nobody says anything. Once we found out about our son's addiction, we found out that tons of parents knew what was going on, but nobody said anything because they didn't think it was their place."
Lowrie said the silence extends to the schools.
"There is so much drug use going on right under the school leaders' noses," Lowrie said. "And nobody is saying anything."
Law enforcement officials say marijuana is the most widely used drug among youth, and they said it's a concern because it is often a gateway to other drugs. They said prescription drugs are also widely used among the youth because of its accessibility in the home.
While heroin isn't as common, it's more dangerous.
Sullivan said the outside-the-box idea could work because until now, there has always been a roadblock when it comes to communication.
"In the past, parents wouldn't tell us if their child's friend was using drugs because they didn't feel like it was their place," Sullivan said. "Or they would feel like they would ruin their own child's trust. And students wouldn't tell us because they were afraid they would get their friend in trouble with the law."
Sullivan said the communication from the school district was also limited. He said if school officials had proof of drug use from its students, it would be communicated to the police department. But if it was just a rumor, it wouldn't be relayed.
“And I’m not pointing fingers; the Police Department itself identifies young people through the course of our investigations but because we don’t have the evidence to file a criminal case we don’t contact the parents," Sullivan said.
With "I.N. the Know," police may receive even more tips.
"This program takes away the feeling of 'We can't talk about this, even though it's right here,'" said Regina DeLoach-Bennett, safe and drug free counselor for LISD. "With this program, we will be a resource. We're already meeting with them to share our resources, but now we may have more families use our resources."
Police and town officials say this program is only one step in addressing the problem. The town will also host a community-wide drug summit August 10 at Trietsch Memorial United Methodist Church for parents to ask questions and provide possible solutions.
"I.N. the Know" is one of several plans that is a result of a push by members of the Flower Mound Town Council to address the drug problem. Mayor Tom Hayden and council members have been vocal during the last year about the growing problem and asked the town staff to look into alternative ideas on dealing with it.
"I think this is a great idea," said Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Bryan Webb. "This focuses the department's efforts not on prosecution but on rehabilitation without diminishing the focus on prosecuting the suppliers. This is innovative and more unique than anything I've seen done, and I think it has a chance of succeeding."
Sullivan said the department has already made contact with about a dozen families for this program. He said the reaction has been "positive" and that some parents didn't know about the drug problem until police notified them. Other families said they knew of the problem but appreciated the resources the police provided.
Sullivan said one reaction police haven't gotten yet is anger from the parents for trying to intervene. They know it will happen eventually. But to shine light on the problem, they're OK with any backlash.
"The silence must stop," Sullivan said. "We must reach out to these young people and their families."
For information, contact Sullivan at 972-874-3341 or the department's non-emergency line at 972-539-0525.
- www.lisd.net (click on About us, Departments, Safe and Drug-free Schools and Communities)
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