The Edmond Sun

May 21, 2009

No control for drug users

Mark Schlachtenhaufen

EDMOND — If you think you can control drug use, think again.

Mental health experts say drugs can control anyone.

For example, in September, Edmond resident Robert Michael Behlen, 51, was sentenced to almost four years in prison for robbing the Barrett Drug Center in September 2007. He demanded painkillers and he left the pharmacy with about 1,600 pills, swallowing a handful of them in the process, police reported.

After his arrest, Behlen was placed on suicide watch, and managed to jump from the fifth floor of the Presbyterian Tower of the University of Oklahoma Medical Center, where he was taken after stabbing himself in the neck with a pencil while he was in custody at the county jail.

Behlen was a respected Edmond attorney.

The local drug scene

In Edmond and elsewhere more youth are experimenting with prescription drugs, including highly addictive painkillers, said Edmond Police Sgt. Damon Minter.

Parents have other cause for concern.

Minter said �?pharm parties,�? in which teens heist prescription drugs from their parents�? medicine cabinets, mix them in a bowl and swallow them with a goal of getting high, likely are happening here.

The party drug Ecstasy is used as much if not more than ever, Minter said. Also being used are crack cocaine and meth, two highly addictive drugs; in a matter of months, meth can dramatically alter a user�?s appearance.

Data from the Edmond Police Department illustrates the level of drug use in the community.

Police report that juvenile bookings for drug-related offenses rose from 97 in 2007 to 114 in 2008, a 17.5 percent increase. Police spokeswoman Glynda Chu said the increase may have risen in part due to the vigorously enforced social host law.

Also, police logged 585 adult drug-related arrests in 2007 and 490 in 2008, Chu said.

Many Edmond teens have used drugs, according to the 2006 Oklahoma Prevention Needs Assessment Survey by the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. This is the most recent data available.

More 10th-graders, 10.5 percent, than 12th-graders, 7.5 percent, have used inhalants. But more 12th-graders, 8.7 percent, than 10th-graders, 4 percent, have used cocaine.

Also, 4 percent of 12th-graders and 2.3 percent of 10th-graders have used meth. And 13.3 percent of 12th-graders and 9.3 percent of 10th-graders have used narcotic stimulants.

Nearly 21 percent of 12th-graders and 17 percent of 10th-graders have used narcotic sedatives. And 7.7 percent of 12th-graders and 5.2 percent of 10th-graders have used Ecstacy.

New, �?improved�? pot

A large percentage of Edmond high school students have used or are using marijuana, the study shows.

The study shows that 40 percent of Edmond 12th-graders have used marijuana in their lifetime, and 17.3 percent have used marijuana within the past 30 days.

Law enforcement officials say there�?s something youth and their parents need to know about the most commonly used illicit drug �? marijuana.

Mark Woodward, spokesman for the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics, said some of the marijuana on the streets today is much more potent and addictive than it was 10 or 20 years ago.

Woodward said some of the marijuana being sold on the streets is not the old 1 percent to 2 percent THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the psychoactive ingredient that produces the �?high.�?

A new analytical report released just last week by the Office of National Drug Control Policy shows that THC levels have reached the highest-ever levels since scientific analysis of the drug began in the late 1970s.

According to the latest data on marijuana samples analyzed, the average amount of THC in seized samples has reached a new high of 10.1 percent. This compares to an average of just under 4 percent reported in 1983, and represents a more than doubling in the potency of the drug since that time.

Woodward said marijuana is a �?gateway drug,�? one that could lead to use of other addictive drugs like crack and heroin.

Woodward said research has shown that marijuana smoke has a higher concentration of carcinogenic substances than tobacco smoke.

It is linked to lung problems such as bronchitis and emphysema. And studies confirm damage to brain cells, nerve cells and reproductive organs, which have led to stillbirths and birth defects. In addition, acute memory loss and lowered immune systems also have been traced to marijuana smoking.

Minter said other consequences of drug addiction and abuse include users stealing from family members to pay for their next �?fix,�? the loss of friends and death.

Words of wisdom

Edmond resident Pat Nichols said his son started getting marijuana from a friend whose father was growing it on his farm.

When his son was a teenager, Nichols began noticing behavioral issues that were counter to all that he had been taught.

�?Our family�?s discipline wasn�?t working anymore and communication wasn�?t working like it used to,�? Nichols said. �?Those things he used to enjoy doing he no longer enjoyed.

�?Friends, parents knew that there was alcohol or some other drugs involved, but they didn�?t share that information with me. Perhaps they were uncomfortable that I would react in a way that would not make them comfortable.�?

At one point, Nichols thought, �?If this is happening to me then it�?s happening to other parents.�?

Edmond�?s juvenile court gave Nichols permission to visit with other parents as they came through the system. Nichols said he wanted to share his experiences with them.

Those conversations, along with interest generated by a previous Edmond Sun series, inspired Nichols to create the Edmond chapter of Parents Helping Parents.

During the seven years Nichols has personally answered the organization�?s hotline, he has received about 1,300 calls from parents. He said each call averaged about 25 minutes.

Minter said due to the realities of policing a large city like Edmond with limited resources, police can only do so much in the war against drugs. Parents must be more involved in their childrens�? lives, be more �?nosey,�? ask more questions, he said.

And youth need to have the inner confidence to be able to just say �?no,�? Minter said.