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Drug awareness a district priority

Taylor Eisenman, of the Record staff

The front lines of the war on drugs are changing, says North Summit parent Robyn Knudsen. "They are no longer in the schools or the streets, but in the homes," she said.

"It’s an issue of kids getting into prescription drugs in their house," Summit County Sheriff Dave Edmunds said. "There’s almost always somebody in a family that’s taking prescription drugs. The access is readily available, and if kids want to get a hold of them, they can."

Knudsen and Edmunds are pivotal members of the North Summit Drug Awareness Committee, a group formed last winter in response to community scrutiny for the administration’s stance against drugs.

According to North Summit Superintendent Steve Carlsen, who is also on the committee, in the summer of 2006, a community member addressed the school board about having random drug testing done for sports and other activities at the high school and middle school.

The school board decided to look into the possibility. They visited Rich High School in Randolph, Utah, where random drug testing is performed. After an intensive investigation, they decided against it. However, from that, the Drug Awareness Committee was formed.

"It’s quite shocking with the things that go on that there hasn’t been a committee or stricter guidelines in the district sooner," Knudsen said. "This has been my personal crusade since my son started drinking two years ago."

Her son then started taking pills, she said, because according to him, it was clean and easily hidden. Within two months, he had overdosed. "It opened my eyes to the dangers of the home medicine cabinet," she said.

"It’s just a part of the world we live in now," Knudsen said. "We just want to raise awareness for parents and grandparents and community members. We want them to watch and care for each other."

"People think they’re living in Happy Valley, and we’re all Mormons, and we all go to church, but people need to realize that, yes, it can happen here."

And, in fact, that point hit too close to home last spring when a student from the district overdosed from drugs and alcohol. "It reinvigorated our efforts," Carlsen said.

The committee, which has about 12 members, meets every two to three months with many community members attending, from Sheriff Edmunds, high school and middle school principals and school board members to business owners and parents like Knudsen. "We’re trying to get everybody involved that can play a role in educating people," said Carlsen.

Edmunds said that the committee’s unique demographics facilitate creative ideas for combating drugs. "We’ve talked about and put a lot of different ideas on the table for helping business owners understand the risks," he said

"I started by going to every grocery store and gas station in Morgan, Coalville, Kamas, Oakley and Francis," Knudsen said, "to talk to them about what they were selling and explain what is federally regulated and what is not."

She went to make businesses aware of products like Coricidin, which contains Dextramethorphan, a cough suppressant that in high doses produces effects similar to that of PCP. "It’s perfectly safe to take them as labeled, but when my son overdosed, he took 34." she said.

Committee members are handing "Braves don’t let Braves do drugs," posters to businesses as well. The Braves is the North Summit athletic department’s moniker. Knudsen also ran a booth at Summit County Fair and organized the first of three Community Drug Awareness Nights on Thursday, Nov. 15, at 7 p.m. in the North Summit High School auditorium.

Knudsen had Sterling Lyman, the director of Triumph Center for Youth, a rehabilitation facility in Brigham City, Utah, where her son is admitted, come and speak at the awareness night. He brought with him three children from the facility, and they each stood and told their stories. "There’s nothing more riveting and pointed than the personal stories of those kids," Knudsen said.

Carlsen said that several people came up to him afterward and said that they needed to have more of these kinds of events. "The whole point is to get this information out there," he said.

In Knudsen’s experience, even doctors are not aware of the dangers of cough syrups, which kids call reds or skittles. She said that when she took her son to the emergency room after he had ingested 34 pills, the doctors said they could not pump his stomach and that they were unaware of the drug Dextramethorphan.

"It truly is the plague of our times," she said, "that kids can read labels better than us, and we don’t know, and we can’t protect them because we don’t know."

Edmunds said a lot of the information they get about abuse is anecdotal. According to Carlsen, he’s heard stories of "pharming" parties where kids bring pills, put them in a bowl together, and then drink alcohol and take handfuls of pills without knowing what they’re taking.

"We’re trying to get out in front of this, and trying to make kids aware of the dangers of mixing prescription drugs and forming cocktails that can de deadly," Edmunds said.

One of the projects the committee spearheaded was replacing old video cameras and adding new ones in and around the high school. "It’s quite a nice system," Carlsen said. "You can look at video over the Internet and at the district offices." They are also working on improving security in the middle and elementary schools, he said.

Eventually the committee plans to revamp the schools’ drug and tobacco policies and put things in place for prevention. While prevention is their goal with everything, Carlsen said, you never really know what you’ve prevented, "you just hope you’ve prevented some use."

Tips for businesses selling cough and cold medicine:

Display products containing Dextramethorphan (DXM) behind the counter. There are more than 120 different products on the market that contain DXM as a cough suppressant.

Pull Tussin Cough and Cold pills containing DXM as they are considered "quick easy" for drug abusers. Syrups are harder to steal, conceal and ingest.

Limit the number of packages on the shelf to two to three, allowing for better control.

Replace Dramamine original formula with Dramamine Non-drowsy because the original contains 60 mg of dimenhydrinate, which acts similarly to DXM, but is far more dangerous and potent. The non-drowsy formula is safe and said by pharmacists to be more effective.

This information was provided by the North Summit Drug Awareness Committee.


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