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Legal, dangerous, potentially lethal: Abuse of prescription drugs raises alarms

You hear about illegal drug abuse all of the time—on the news, at school, from the media. However, the misuse of legal drugs isn’t as widely covered, despite the fact that teenagers are one of the most at-risk groups for prescription drug abuse.

The 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that recreational prescription drug use among adolescents 12 to 18 and young adults 18 to 25 is the most prevalent form of drug abuse, after alcohol and marijuana. In addition, a study by Dr. Jennifer R. Havens of the Center on Drug and Alcohol Research shows that prescription drug abuse among those under age 18 increased 212 percent between 1992 and 2003; the abuse of these drugs is also more prevalent among rural adolescents.

The PRIDE Survey, which asked students in Fauquier County grades 7-12 multiple questions about drug use, found that, after alcohol and marijuana, prescription drugs are the most popular drug among 12th graders; 175 students reported abusing prescription drugs in the last 30 days. The use of these substances often takes place way from school grounds; nonetheless, many students use these drugs, both recreationally and in order to deal with the course load they’re given at school.

According to sophomore Sam Lader*, the most commonly abused prescription drug in the area is Adderall because of its availability.

“I would say the one that’s most enjoyed, however, is definitely painkillers,” Lader said. “Painkillers are much harder to get a hold of, specifically because they are opiates, and so they don’t want you to have them—especially kids our age.”

Lader first used opiates for non-medical purposes in September, 2015, as a way to relax, and has since used Oxycodone, Vicodin, Percocet and Hydrocodone, as well as other non-opiate medications, like Adderall and Xanax. One of the main reasons opiates are so ‘relaxing’ is because they slow down one’s heartbeat and breathing and can cause drowsiness, dizziness, nausea, and even unrousable unconsciousness.

“Opiates can make you forget entire days,” junior Tom Jasso* said. “You lose control of yourself when you’re on them, and it’s just not fun. They’re easy to develop a dependency for and very, very easy to kill yourself with.”

Jasso first tried prescription drugs his freshman year but didn’t experiment with downers until six or seven months ago when he tried Xanax at a party simply because he was interested.

“It was pleasurable the first time, but I prefer stimulants more often,” Jasso said. “Xanax is a downer, like opiates, so my opinion on them is the same. All other benzos are essentially the same, if not worse for you, than Xanax, and with more extreme side effects.”

For many years doctors and pharmaceutical companies gave out prescriptions for narcotic painkillers without much consideration for the drugs’ potential for abuse. In 2014, the DEA started restricting these drugs more heavily—and as a result many people addicted to painkillers turned to heroin as a cheap, more accessible opioid alternative.

“If you do get addicted to them, it usually leads to a heroin addiction because opiates and heroin are one and the same,” Lader said. “That’s a huge problem in Warrenton because you have all of these kids that start out as pillheads in high school, and then they turn into full-blown heroin addicts the minute they get out.”

In addition to opiates, other prescription drugs, like amphetamines and muscle relaxers, are popular among high school students. Some students use the stimulating effects of amphetamines (usually ADD medicine) as a way to handle their workload.

“I got some Adderall from someone at the end of my freshman year,” senior Joe Fluke* said. “I took it then intending to use it as a study aid, but it didn’t really work as I expected it to in the ‘speed’ sense. It allowed me just to be more focused and actually get stuff done.”

After that, Fluke began experimenting with other ADD/ADHD medications and continued to do so throughout his sophomore and junior years. After trying several different types of medicine, he began to question whether he might actually have ADHD and benefit from a prescription.

“Vyvanse is what I’m now prescribed for ADHD, which I was finally diagnosed with back in October,” Fluke said. “Now that I have my prescription, all of my grades have significantly risen, and I’ve improved in all academic areas.”

According to Fluke, the most popular amphetamines that are used recreationally in the area are Adderall and Vyvanse.

“A lot of people will take them recreationally just to get the euphoric feeling, the energy, and the focus—you know, stay up all night and study for midterms,” Fluke said. “But there’s also some people who definitely exhibit symptoms of ADHD who I think are self-medicating without a prescription, which is what I sort of accidentally did before it led me to realize I might actually have ADHD.”

Taking amphetamines without a prescription (or even with one, if the prescription isn’t used appropriately) can be dangerous. Short term side effects of amphetamine use include an increased heart rate and possibly abnormal palpitations; they increase blood pressure and body temperature and can cause jitteriness, dizziness, stomach cramps, irritability and aggression. Coming down from an amphetamine high often causes one to “crash,” which can lead to temporary mood swings and depression. In addition, taking any type of speed reduces one’s need to sleep, which can lead to disrupted sleeping patterns.

Jasso, who often takes amphetamines recreationally, enjoys them but said that the underlying anxiety that he usually feels while on them is occasionally overwhelming.

“Sometimes I get jittery and uncomfortable,” Jasso said. “They help stimulate me, help me create things and concentrate, but they can make me feel sort of anxious, and that can make the experience less positive sometimes.”

School Resource Officer Lieutenant Sal Torelli said that, although some students abuse prescription drugs, it isn’t as much of a problem in high school as in colleges. Still, he maintains that it’s an issue that needs to be addressed.

“It’s dangerous to take a prescription that doesn’t belong to you,” Torelli said. “You’ve got to think about it—these drugs are given to a certain person to treat a specific illness. If it’s not prescribed to you, then you don’t need it.”

*student sources’ names have been changed to  protect their identities.

~jacqueline smith, co-features director

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Folkers cope with loss, strive to help other addicts and their families

Above: Senior Lauren Folker and her sister Kathrine share a happy moment. “My [family] went to Mexico- we went to Cancun. Kathrine and I just hung out the whole time, and I think that’s my favorite memory of her,” Folker said. “We went out, and we would dance, and we just made a bunch of friends.

When senior Lauren Folker’s sister Kathrine, died of a heroin overdose in August, 2015, she and her mother decided to help others who are battling heroin addictions.

One of 10 people who died in Fauquier County of a heroin overdose in 2015, Kathrine began experimenting with alcohol and pills, like Molly, in high school. After graduation she went into a 30-day sober living facility.

“In March of 2015 Kathrine felt that she was ready to go out on her own, but she quickly relapsed with alcohol, pills, and then heroin, which she never had before,” Kathrine’s mother Caroline Folker said. “Then she voluntarily went into rehab for two weeks in July, then relapsed. She knew she had a big problem. In her words, she was in hell. By August, she was dead; it was a very quick battle.”

Alumnus Ryan Perry spoke at Kathrine’s funeral; he said that her smile and friendliness had a big impact.

“Every time I saw her, she treated me like we had been best friends for years,” Perry said. “She was one of those rare people who was constantly positive. We an keep her with us by being like that to others.”

Since her sister lived in Winchester during the addiction process, Lauren didn’t witness Kathrine’s struggle first hand.

“It was hard hearing about it; we would usually keep the conversation light and easy,” Lauren said. “Kathrine loved everybody; that was really admirable. If you needed anything, she was there, and she was so genuinely nice to people.”

Caroline created a group to educate and give support to addicts and their families. The group meets on the first and third Thursday of every month at the Fauquier Hospital. It has helped give Caroline closure on her daughter’s death.

“We discovered there was a huge [number] of people who needed to get information quickly and couldn’t,” Caroline said. “I decided to create a support group called Families Overcoming Drug Addiction, so families who were going through what we were have a place to go to.”

Recovering addicts attend the meetings to tell their stories and speak to addicts and their families about the choices they’ve made, the recovery program and what recovery could look like.

“We have a total of 30 people who come,” Lauren said. “We get into a big circle and just discuss what we’ve been through; a lot of people there are where we were a few years ago. We give emotional support and have all become very close.”

Caroline and Lauren are certified in giving Narcan, an opiate antidote, to those who have overdosed on heroin and prescription opiates.

“It’s really important for families with drug addicts in their home to have the ability to save a life very quickly,” Caroline said. “Also, at the end of April I’m going to try to get certified to become a recovery coach and to help families on making decisions [for their loved ones].”

According to Lauren, the best way to support someone going through an addiction is to be there for them.

“You can see them at their worst moments, and you just need to love them through it and do whatever they need you to do. It’s definitely made me a stronger person. I’ve learned more about addiction, heroin in particular,” Lauren said. “I’ve gotten close to some people who are struggling and have learned what to say and how to help them.”

The use of heroin has doubled since 2007 and heroin-related deaths have tripled between 2010 to 2013, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The heroin epidemic affects people of all ages, races and backgrounds. School Resource Officer Lieutenant Sal Torelli said that being educated is the best way for students and parents to be aware of the dangers of heroin and its addictive qualities.

“We’re doing everything we can to combat this problem. We know that locking [users] up isn’t going to solve this [epidemic]. We can’t arrest our way out of this; we need treatments,” Torelli said. “Enforcement has stepped up quite a bit, and there are numerous different programs out there that are helping addicts. If we save one life, I’m happy; one life lost from heroin is too much.”

Lauren says that outsiders watching someone go through the addiction process should be empathetic to addicts and realize that addiction is a disease.

“It’s not [the addict’s] fault, and it doesn’t make them a bad person. If you’re going through it, there is hope,” Lauren said. “[The whole situation] definitely brought us all close together and made us realize that family is most important.”

~erica gudino, viewpoint director

Pride survey provides stats on mental health, drug use

infographic USELast fall, 4450 Fauquier County students in the seventh through 12th grades took the Pride Student Survey. Last administered in 2009 and sponsored by Fauquier County Public Schools (FCPS), Fauquier CADRE, and the Mental Health Association of Fauquier, the survey provides the School Board with statistics regarding student drug use, mental health, and safety issues.

Among the most salient findings of the survey was that, although overall drug use has gone down since 2009, students are beginning to do drugs at significantly younger ages, with the ages of first use being around 13 and 14 on average

“Whether it was alcohol, tobacco, or marijuana, what we’re seeing, statistically, is that over time the age of first use has dropped,” Assistant Superintendent  Frank Finn said. “It’s definitely younger than the last [Pride Survey], but that’s a national trend, as well.”

The survey revealed that 400 students are potentially addicted to substances, and 79 students tried heroin last year. In the past 30 days, 574 students reported using an illicit drug, with 202 of those students being seniors. Twelfth graders use drugs at a rate above the national average, with 4.5 percent of seniors admitting to using heroin, one in five using marijuana, and 20 percent smoking cigarettes.

“I am concerned to see that heroin use is occurring within our student population, especially given the lethality of the drug,” Finn said. “In addition, I’m still trying to figure out why substance use for 12th graders is so much higher than other grades.”

In senior Ella Wilmore’s opinion, drug use is a direct cause of students attempting to self-medicate mental health issues.

“I think kids are so stressed, depressed, anxious, and they don’t know what to do,” Wilmore said. “So they resort to the easiest thing, which is drugs and alcohol.”

A significant number of students report struggling with their mental health. Twenty-nine percent of those surveyed have felt depressed in the past year, and 272 students have thought about suicide.

Senior Bailey Jenkins isn’t surprised by the statistics.

“I’m surprised [the amount of students having suicidal thoughts] isn’t higher,” Jenkins said. “It seems like everyone I know has had these thoughts at one point. There’s so much stress and pressure in high school.”

Around 60 percent of students report schoolwork as being a major stress factor for them.

“Kids feel so unprepared for college and that stresses them out. When you’re taking core classes and each teacher gives you an hour of homework every day, that’s also stressful. Then there are tests, AP tests, SOLs, and midterms,” Wilmore said. “Being so stressed that kids are considering killing themselves is definitely a problem, and it isn’t always the students’ fault. I think there is some blame that needs to be put on society, and parents, and teachers, and adults as a whole. That’s something people should recognize and work on fixing.”

Sixteen percent of students said they wouldn’t talk to anyone if they were dealing with intense feelings of sadness, depression, anxiety, or thoughts of self harm. Senior Genevieve Zitzmann believes students refuse to speak with teachers regarding personal problems because they fear their issues will be written off as “teenager problems,” and they believe they can resolve the dilemma better on their own.

“I think a lot of students feel it isn’t right for them to impose their personal problems on a teacher,” Zitzmann said. “There are more expectations [for a high school student]. You’re either treated like a child or adult, being patronized or held to super-high expectations.”
According to Finn, FCPS is working with CADRE and the Mental Health Association to hold a community meeting on April 29 to discuss the survey’s findings and formulate goals intended to help students with mental health and substance abuse.

“We know the stigma is the number one barrier to students seeking help,” Finn said. “So, we are going to develop goals focused on how to decrease the stigma in the community.”
Wilmore believes that, for students, schoolwork often takes precedence over their well-being and that advocating for mental health awareness may help.

“It’s a societal problem. I think it would be helpful to tell kids it’s okay that if they’re having a bad mental health day to take the day off, that they’re more important than their grades, and that they aren’t worthless if they are too depressed to go to school,” Wilmore said. “However, I know that no matter how bad I’m feeling, I won’t miss school because I don’t want to take exams that will make my stress worse.”

~lana heltzel, editor-in-chief

The administration censors Falconer article on manufacture and use of dabs

On March 10, Principal Clarence Burton told The Falconer that he would not permit the publication of an in-depth article written about dabbing, the smoking of a highly concentrated form of marijuana that’s popular in the student drug subculture. After being notified of the potentially controversial article, Burton asked to review the article prior to publication, and then denied publication on the grounds that the information might endanger the health or safety of students. This is a new phase in the history of The Falconer, which has not been censored in over 36 years, if ever.

The article is a well written, extensively researched, unbiased, and informative piece that  relies on several student sources to document first-hand experiences with the drug. The article discusses what dabbing is and identifies numerous risks associated with the use and manufacture of the drug. Although he acknowledges that  the article is quality student journalism, he says it is not appropriate for ninth grade readers, even though one of the sources began using the drug as a freshman. According to Burton, young students should not be permitted to read the information without adult guidance to tell them what it means. In his letter stating the reasons for the censorship, Burton said, “Unlike a drug safety unit taught in a health class by a trained professional, this article does not come with that trained instructor. If this article was to be published, children would be exposed to a new and dangerous drug without adult guidance.” The only problem with this position is that students are not taught drug safety units in high school. The administration has known about dabbing for months, but has not provided information to the school community.

By censoring the article, the administration’s position seems to be that educating young people about a topic that is controversial and dangerous means that they will go out and do it. Topics like teen pregnancy, drunk driving, suicide, and drugs should not be discussed, at least not by students in a student newspaper. The voices of high school students on these topics must be silent, and the only messages that are sanctioned are those of the administration. That way, controversy will not happen, and it will not exist. In reality, most of the student body, including freshmen, knows that dabbing exists. For those who don’t, is it better for them to learn about dabbing through a friend or a peer, or through a researched, comprehensive article?

Prior review takes the student out of a student publication and makes it a publication by the administration. A student journalist’s job is to report on the activities of students in their school, and that is what the article does. The School Board’s publications policy requires student material to be fair and balanced, well-written, grammatically correct, and suitable for audience for which it is intended. Some controversial topics may be uncomfortable for adults, who do not like to admit that some high school students may be involved in drug use or other controversial behavior. However, we contend that not saying anything is more harmful than saying the truth. Just because a topic may be uncomfortable for the administration does not mean that it is unsuitable for a high school audience. Or that students are incapable of understanding it.

Although the publications policy requires students to notify the principal of potentially controversial stories, this does not mean that student First Amendment rights do not exist; nor does it mean there should be prior review. Most importantly, it does not mean that censorship is okay. Essentially, the new editors of The Falconer are the administration, and the voice of the student body is severely compromised.

Because of censorship, being a part of the student newspaper is no longer a way to learn about real journalism and write real stories about real issues. If The Falconer does put in the hours to write stories that matter to the lives of students, the administration can kill them with the stroke of a censor’s pen. The administration-approved stories may have our names, but not student voices. The principal could support us, he could trust us, and he could be an advocate for the student voice.

The Falconer encourages opinions from the student body and the community about this issue.

ADHD makes focus a challenge

Some days, having to sit in class is a struggle. Your teacher seems to like the sound of her own voice, and the only thing you can think about is all the things you would rather be doing. Imagine having a disorder that made this common teenage struggle even more difficult.
Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, is a behavioral and genetic disorder that causes students to have difficulties with paying attention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity.
“It can be difficult to keep thoughts organized [for students with ADHD],” counselor Julie Kirk said. “The key is learning to compensate.”
ADHD affects three to five percent of adolescents. Depending on the severity, students that are diagnosed with ADHD may have accommodations in the form of an Individual Education Plan (IEP) or a 504 plan that state their disorder, what it entails, and how to accommodate it. Some teachers recognize the disorder without a plan.
“I think they kind of pick up on it,” freshmen Tyler Pavlock said. “I’m so loud and I don’t focus.”
Math teacher Paul Reynolds has an understanding way of approaching the disorder.
“I have a student that can’t pay attention to me for more than 12 seconds,” Reynolds said. “I’m not going to punish him for it; I have a really small class and I can tell him to go do something different for three minutes and come back.”
Stimulants, like Adderall, are most commonly prescribed to treat ADHD because they have an opposite effect on people with the disorder; it calms them down. However, the side effects include loss of appetite, sleep problems and mood swings.
Sophomore Jessie Dawson was diagnosed with ADHD in the eighth grade. She said she always knew she had it, but her mom didn’t feel medication would be helpful.
“When I took medication it helped so much and then my mom felt really bad.” Dawson said. “[Without medication] I can’t focus. I’m not energetic; tt’s hard to get words for it.”
However, Dawson explained that the medication affects her mood, sometimes causing her to become depressed. Freshmen Nick Jacobus was diagnosed with ADHD in first grade when he had problems focusing.
“Sometimes I forget to take my pills and it irks me,” Jacobus said. “Like today I forgot, and I’ve gotten in trouble a few times; it doesn’t really bother me though.”
Kirk said that learning to cope puts a great deal of responsibility on students. Depending on the severity of a person’s ADHD, it can be controlled through medication, a different learning environment, or a combination of both. Others can control symptoms on their own.
“[Medication] made me too calm, so I stopped taking it,” Pavlock said. “I don’t do anything to control [ADHD]. I just go with it.”
ADHD medication is a weak amphetamine that, taken without the actual condition, produces a high. One anonymous student buys ADHD medication from students at school with the disorder. He explained what the drugs do for him.
“I can concentrate; it gives me a numbed out feeling that weed doesn’t,” the student said. “I think so much clearer, and it’s safer than other drugs if you’re smart about it.”
ADHD medications are subject to abuse by high school students. A person with ADHD may sell medication instead of taking it, and in some cases, people will tell a doctor the right symptoms in order to get a prescription. In 2012, 7.6 percent of high school seniors abused Adderall, according to a study by the University of Michigan.
When medication and other accommodations are used properly, having ADHD is not all bad for teenagers. Symptoms can be positive and give people unique qualities, like creativity and intuition.
“Without medication my mind goes everywhere,” Dawson said. “You’re thinking about so many things it’s easier to get new ideas and think outside the box.”

~SaraRose Martin, staff reporter