Police officials crack down on drug abuse

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 19, 2002

Drug use by teenagers in Mower County is on the rise and methamphetamine is quickly becoming the drug of choice.

At a press conference Thursday, members of the Mower County Methamphetamine Task Force discussed what the dangers of meth are and what parents should do if they suspect their children are involved with any sort of chemical abuse.

"It's cheap and easy to hide. It's a drug we need to pay attention to," says Gary Nyquist, truancy probation officer and assistant director of Mower County Correctional Services.

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It's a drug that can be made from common household items and is very, very addictive.

Mower County Chief Deputy Terese Amazi explained that when someone becomes hooked on the drug, "their only desire is for meth. They don't eat, they don't sleep. All they want is meth. We have guys in the jail who used to weigh 300 lbs., but are now 120 lbs.," because they are addicted to the drug.

Royce Helmbrecht, assistant principal at Austin High School said that though admitting a child has a drug problem is a difficult thing for parents to do, they should be on the lookout for signs of addiction. "As a parent, you have the responsibility to find out if things are not right," he said.

These signs include many behavioral and physical maladies. If your child is excessively absent from school, if he or she is normally obedient and suddenly becomes very belligerent all the time, or if a child's grades drop, he or she may have a drug addiction, Helmbrecht said.

Amazi added dilated eyes, open sores, sudden weight loss and dark circles under the eyes also are signs a child (or anyone, really) has a drug problem. Another sign, Amazi said is if household supplies begin to disappear faster than normal. "If your aluminum foil supply drops to nothing," that's could be an indicator someone in your house is using drugs, Amazi said.

Use or disposal of excessive amounts of over-the-counter drugs, such as Sudafed and Benedryl, also are signals of a drug-abuse problem. Helmbrecht says stores in Austin are on the lookout for people who purchase large quantities of medicine and that the task force has been encouraging stores to move their supplies of Sudafed and Benedryl behind the counters.

"The numbers (of chemical abuse among high school students) are very, very high already and can't go up much more," Helmbrecht said. "Eighty percent of kids in the junior class have used some type of chemical in the past year. That appalls me not just as an administrator, but also as a parent."

Margene Gunderson, director of community health service with Mower County Public Health, said "we need to be aware that it's very, very easy for kids to get drugs and alcohol in the community. Even if parents think they have the perfect world, they need to look again."

Kirsten Lindbloom, coordinator of the Mower County Chemical Health Coalition, said people in Mower County are especially prone to drug use because "we're a rural community on the Interstate. That makes us a good place for drug manufacturing and sales."

Lindbloom said statistics show that of all ninth and 12th grade students in Mower County, 9 percent have used meth in the past year. Statewide, that figure is only 6 percent. Additionally, 17 percent of all 12th grade males in Mower County have used meth in the last year, compared to 8 percent of all 12th grade males in the state.

"If you suspect something is going on, it probably is. Search your children's rooms, their book bags, look in their CD cases – that's a popular hiding place for meth because it's small enough it can fit in there," Amazi said.

She also said that though parents think they should only call law enforcement as a last resort because the officers will show up and arrest their child, that's not the case. "We try to turn children around and put into a treatment center first," she said. "If we receive a phone call, we'll talk to parents about all of these things; it doesn't go right to court."

Parents can turn to other resources for help, as well. Parents United, a support group for parents with children who have drug problems, will meet at the Austin Public Library at 7 p.m., every Tuesday, beginning May 7. Helmbrecht says parents can contact him at AHS at 433-0408. Nyquist says parents also can contact him at 4330462 or they can call the Mower County Correctional Services at 437-9454.

Amanda L. Rohde can be reached at 434-2214 or by e-mail at :mailto: amanda.rohde@austindailyherald.com