Drug users in Clark County schools get tragically creative

In any other circumstance, the array of items blanketing the table would be harmless, picked up in a family trip to the grocery store.

A canister of Pringles, a bottle of water, Visine eye drops, a can of Dr Pepper, Tootsie Rolls, a pacifier, children’s chewable vitamins, WD-40. Even a rock.

But Clark County School District police officer Steve Ufford displays them like bounty from a drug bust.

The Pringles container is full of chips, but the bottom has a hidden compartment. Students twist the Tootsie Rolls’ wrappers around stacks of Ecstasy pills. The bottle of water and the eye drops are actually GHB, the "date rape drug," a clear, odorless fluid that simulates extreme intoxication with just a few drops.

All have been found in Clark County schools, Ufford said.

"We’re struggling to stay on top of this," he told a group of teachers, administrators and security personnel last week during a training session on the latest drug trends that not only reach Las Vegas, but sometimes start here and spread throughout the country.

"We’re a partying town," Ufford said. "That’s our culture here in Vegas, and it trickles down to our schools."

The chewable vitamins are actually Thizz, the first drug of its kind in the country. It was found in a southwest area school. The pills, shaped like Power Rangers and Transformers, attracted the attention of the U.S. attorney general’s office, which assisted in the investigation.

"This is hot off the presses," Ufford said of the pills that can be a mix of many things, including Ecstasy, heroin and speed. "It could be a myriad of things."

FINDING CONCEALED DRUGS

Because of the changing form of the drugs and clever concealment methods, many school officials are fooled when searching students, Ufford hears on a regular basis.

"I had no idea. I passed that by," is a common reaction he hears during training for school district personnel. "I know we like to think they’re not, but these kids really are smart."

Matthew Padovese was similarly surprised about methods for hiding drugs; and he is experienced in dealing with students, having worked as a security guard at the southeast valley’s Chaparral High School for six years.

"We wouldn’t go a week without finding drugs," he said, mentioning the vodka-soaked gummy worms and prescription drugs that came into vogue during his time there. "It’s definitely an uphill battle. By the time you figure it out, they’re moving on to the next thing. You learn detail is everything."

Padovese now is a security guard at Southwest Behavior School and volunteered for the training. Students end up at behavior schools for six to 12 weeks after being found with drugs.

Marijuana is still the most confiscated substance, but designer drugs like Thizz are gaining popularity, according to Jodi Joyce, coordinator of the district’s Safe and Drug-Free Schools program.

Last year, about 2,500 students were caught with drugs and enrolled in the school district’s substance abuse program. About 1,700 of the students were there for marijuana, but designer drugs are on their way up, Joyce said.

Drugs such as Spice, prescriptions, inhalants, Thizz, bath salts and other synthetics are being seen more and more.

Designer drugs were the second-most confiscated type of drug last year, recovered in 400 cases. That’s 50 more instances than alcohol.

"Prescription drugs are now the gateway drug," said Joyce, emphasizing the recklessness with which students are taking their parents’ medications.

From pain pills to cholesterol medications and antidepressants, she has seen students with it all. And students often don’t know what they’re taking when rolling the dice – literally – at "pharm parties."

Students toss prescription medications into a bowl and mix it up. They then roll dice and swallow the number of pills that they roll. Or they have colored dice and swallow a handful of whatever color they roll, chasing it with alcohol.

Students aren’t only experimenting with prescriptions and new designer drugs, but constantly push the envelope of the usual drugs, like alcohol, Joyce said.

School staff have identified students with vodka-soaked tampons, attempting to get drunk without drinking a drop.

"That is not gender bias either," she said.

Others put vodka in eye drops and get drunk by having the alcohol absorbed into their eyes.

"They’re very, very creative. They expand and embellish," she said, mentioning that students will get jobs at funeral homes for the formaldehyde. They soak cigarettes in the embalming fluid.

SCARING STUDENTS STRAIGHT

Students caught with any drug are taught about all these drugs and their symptoms.

"Parents say, ‘You’re telling them too many things,’ " Joyce said.

She counters with, "Education is the best prevention."

Knowledge of the risks can scare students straight. A seemingly harmless blood pressure drug may help a parent but kill a teenager who is 25 years younger and 100 pounds lighter, she said.

Joyce has run into the problem with a student who took a handful of blood pressure pills, but didn’t know if the pills reduced or increased blood pressure. The student asked her why that matters.

"Well, one will make your heart stop and the other will make it explode," she replied.

Safe and Drug-Free Schools staff also educate parents, who must take the six-hour program if their child is caught with drugs.

Getting parents to sit down in the class can be more challenging than working with students, said Joyce, who has been cussed at and yelled at but won’t back down.

The first two hours are spent having parents and children talking to each other.

Students then go to behavior schools for a varying number of weeks before returning to a regular school. But they don’t return to their old school.

Joyce rarely sees the same student twice in the program.

"We usually see the light bulb," she said.

But her office isn’t just reactionary. It comes to schools to educate in prevention efforts, like DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education). However, now that the Metropolitan Police Department has cut its DARE program, her office is the sole prevention program in Clark County schools, working with K-12 students in age-appropriate substance abuse curriculums.

Her staff also makes special trips to schools facing spikes in certain things, such as the use of Spice, prescription drugs and Thizz.

Students are told everything about the vogue drug, especially the symptoms and dangers. "Again, education is the best prevention."

Contact reporter Trevon Milliard at tmilliard@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0279.

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