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Health education in Carroll public schools covers heroin, other drug use

Health education in Carroll public schools covers heroin, other drug use
Carroll County Sheriff's Deputy Jeremy Holland demonstrates the vertical gaze nystagmus test, used in field sobriety tests to identify drivers impaired by drugs, with North Carroll High School freshman Cody Lance, while talking to students about drugs and alcohol Dec. 3. (DYLAN SLAGLE/STAFF PHOTO, Carroll County Times)

As the owner of two sober homes in the county, Tim Weber often hears stories from young men who are addicted to heroin.

Many of them tell Weber, who has been in recovery from the drug for 10 years, stories of becoming addicted to prescription drugs, such as Oxycontin, a narcotic pain reliever, in high school, either through taking the drug at parties or after an athletic injury.

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"It's just like you hear," Weber said. "They eventually go to heroin because it's just so much cheaper and it's so much easier to get."

Carroll County Public Schools is working to combat drug use in the county, including the upswing of heroin use, through drug education in almost every grade.

Dawn Rathgeber, assistant supervisor of health education, said the goal of health education in Carroll County is to help students live a long and healthy life.

"We really focus on making healthy decisions and what's good for your body," she said. "Illegal drugs are not."

In adherence with the state curriculum, information is taught about heroin in eighth grade and students are shown the "Heroin Kills" video, which was made in Carroll in 1999. Students in middle school have been viewing the video since the movie was released.

The movie "Heroin Kills" was made in Carroll County as the result of a group of residents banding together in an attempt to decrease heroin usage in the county.

As a part of the new adopt-a-school program, a partnership between local police and CCPS that started this school year, officers go in to second-, fifth-, seventh- and eighth-grade classrooms, as well as Health 1 classes in high school. Officers talk about the consequences of drug use and the effects, among other topics.

Officers give a multiple-day presentation on drugs at the high school level, Rathgeber said.

Deputy Jeremy Holland, of the Carroll County Sheriff's Office, recently explained the legal and physical consequences of drugs and alcohol to students in David Dodson's Health 1 course at North Carroll High School.

He said theft is the major crime in Carroll, and often it's drug addicts stealing from unlocked cars to support their addictions.

Heroin is a product of the opium flower and comes in many different forms, Holland explained.

"Heroin is a growing problem here in Carroll County," he said. "It's back up on the rise."

It's often mixed with different ingredients. It suppresses pain and respiratory rate, clouds mental functioning and causes nausea and vomiting, Holland said. It can also cause restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhea and vomiting.

"Heroin withdrawal can actually kill you," he said. "Heroin and alcohol are the two worst things to withdraw from."

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The drug dealers don't care about people but are just interested in making money, he said.

Linda Auerback, substance abuse prevention supervisor at the Carroll County Health Department, goes into elementary, middle and high school health classes to discuss age-appropriate refusal skills, anger management and general drug education.

"If [students] don't know how to cope, if they don't know how to deal with stress, a lot of times they'll use drugs and alcohol," she said.

In eighth-grade classes, Auerback or other health department educators teach addiction and its effect on the brain to students. They also give presentations at parent nights and back-to-school nights and have professional development for teachers, she said.

Some topics they discuss include current trends and signs and symptoms, Auerback said. They also learn from what teachers and parents have seen or experienced.

Weber has had a number of graduates from local high schools go through his sober homes.

"In my houses, I know that I've had someone from every school in Carroll County," he said.

Every year for the last three years, Weber and his daughter, Megan Weber, and men from his sober homes visit Gateway School at the beginning of the year and then talk with certain students every Wednesday during the school year. Megan Weber suffered from an addiction to alcohol and prescription drugs.

Gateway School in Westminster provides alternative educational opportunities for students who demonstrate difficulties in the areas of behavioral and emotional adjustment in the traditional school setting, according to the school's website.

"We just share our story with them," he said. "They talk about problems with drugs and alcohol, and they also talk about their parents because a lot of them have parents with problems."

It's good for the students to see father and daughter at the talk, Weber said. Megan Weber grew up with her father abusing heroin and other drugs. Sometimes, however, the students from Gateway don't quit the destructive behaviors and end up in one of his sober homes.

Weber said they only go into Gateway, but he imagines the outreach would be beneficial in every high school in Carroll. The students often tell him that many people think there's nothing wrong with smoking marijuana even though for some it can be a gateway drug.

Weber does a lot of work with the Every 15 Minutes program, which is a campaign that states every 15 minutes someone dies from an alcohol-related collision. The program is designed to dramatically instill teenagers with the potentially dangerous consequences of drinking alcohol and texting while driving.

"The guys love doing that, talking to high school kids and parents," he said. "There's nothing better than using their past to help these kids."

For students who become addicts at a young age, it's usually because of peer pressure and the fact that drugs and alcohol often give shy, timid kids the confidence they seek, Weber said. For recovering addicts, he advocates complete abstinence from drugs and alcohol.

"If you're an addict, it's just going to continue to get worse until you do something to get out of it," he said.

Drug education in schools stays aligned to the curriculum, but adapts based on new knowledge becoming available, Rathgeber, of CCPS, said. She gets a lot of data from the health department and police officers.

Currently emphasis is on using prescription drugs correctly and educating students about heroin, as well as drugs such as K2 spice and bath salts, which have recently become popular. Attempts are made to be proactive in educating children, and the school system encourages parents to talk to their students about drug and alcohol use.

"Kids need that knowledge to make good decisions," she said. "And it's important to keep open communication with your teenager."

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