Are opioids in Bladen County schools? The answer depends on who you ask.
“We know we have kids that are in high school and, to some degree in middle school, that are involved in the use of illicit drugs,” said Bladen County Schools Superintendent Robert Taylor. “Having said that, just because a kid is in school and he’s using drugs, there’s a tendency to say there’s a drug problem in schools. I think it’s important to separate a child, who is in school, having a drug problem and a school having a drug problem.”
The district, like all others across the nation, finds itself in unfamiliar territory.
“It used to be that marijuana was the gateway drug,” said David Chestnutt, director of Carolina Crossroads, a rehabilitation center in Elizabethtown. “Now it’s opioids. I bet 80 percent of the guys that come through here got started with opioids.”
Law enforcement in general, and especially those policing what students bring to school, are facing a unique challenge posed by opioids.
“The problem with opioids as I see it is that it’s harder to detect those kinds of drugs,” Taylor remarked. “We’ve worked very closely with the sheriff’s office to have random searches, but we recognize that few, if any, of the dogs trained can pick up on opioids. They’ll sniff out cocaine or marijuana, but if a kid sticks 10 pills in his back pocket, we’re not going to do those kind of searches all the time. We have to be cognizant of students’ rights.”
The school system, according to Taylor, is doing all it can.
Students are not allowed to possess any form of medication, even over-the-counter pills like acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Students are required to take any medicine to the office, along with doctor’s orders for dispensation, and medication is administered by a nurse or trained school personnel.
Despite the barriers, the temptation is too great for some.
“If you’re selling drugs, the schools are a place where you’ve got access to a lot of people,” Taylor said.
For parents of students on drugs, there doesn’t seem to be a ready solution. Doyle Owen’s son Brandon died in February from a drug overdose, a habit he began while a teenager.
“I’ve talked to a lot of parents and teachers, and they come to me and say it’s bad at East and West,” Owen said. “I know my son was buying and selling cocaine when he was in school, and he was introduced to opioids there.
“If you’ve got 1,000 kids at school and 25 of them are on drugs, that’s a problem,” he added. “And the number is way higher than 25. It doesn’t do anybody any good to turn a blind eye. Let’s talk about it and try to fix the problem.”
One attempt to combat the problem is the G.R.E.A.T program, aimed at educating students about gangs and gang-related activities like drugs.
“If one kid overdoses and dies, that’s a tragedy,” Taylor commented. “If society has changed (from marijuana to opioids), we’ve got to make that shift in our education as well.”
Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.