An education in drug culture

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Glacier High School freshman Jason Hayes, left, talks with Jason Parce, the Kalispell Police Department School Resource Officer at Glacier, on Friday.

A pair of Kalispell police officers offered a peek into the drug culture in the city’s schools during a recent presentation to parents and the public.

From bath salts to “butt chugging,” School Resource Officers Jason Parce and Cory Clarke described the challenges they face in their jobs and the choices about drugs being made each day by students in the valley.

“We really operate off of a triad concept,” Parce said. “Number one, we’re law enforcement officers. Number two, we are informal counselors. And number three, we are guest lecturers.”

Parce said he gave eight presentations last year at local schools on the subjects of drugs and alcohol as well as cyber-crimes such as Facebook bullying.

Parce and Clarke agreed the biggest challenge they face is the proliferation of marijuana and prescription drugs.

“They go hand in hand,” Parce said. “One of the things we’re finding right now is that prescription pills — specifically narcotic analgesics like hydrocodone, Lortab and OxyContin — they’re going for between $10 and $20 a pill, depending on the milligram. And they’re trading that for pot.”

Just such an occurrence recently led to the arrest of two boys, a 15-year-old Glacier High School student and a 14-year-old Kalispell Middle School student.

“They’re doing a lot of that sale and distribution and trading straight across because money’s hard to come by,” Parce said. “But prescription pills are not hard to come by. They’re very easy to obtain. They’re in almost every household, if not they can go to a grandparent’s house or a friend’s house and they can find them.”

Parce and Clarke said they have confiscated all kinds of pills, including blood pressure medication.

In addition, Parce noted that they are sometimes finding methamphetamine and heroin mixed into the marijuana they are confiscating from students.

ANOTHER major problem in the schools, Parce said, is synthetic marijuana, marketed as herbal incense under such names as K2, Spice, and Mr. Smiley.

Synthetic marijuana is made of a base plant matter sprayed with synthetic cannabinoids.

“If you talk to any kid that’s smoked this stuff or used it, or even an adult, it’s nothing like marijuana,” Parce said. “What it is is it’s a cross between a stimulant and a hallucinogen, and depending upon how much of it you smoke, that’s what’s going to determine the types of symptoms that you have.”

Many synthetic compounds commonly found in synthetic marijuana were outlawed last year by the Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act, which placed the compounds under Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act — the same level as marijuana and heroin.

“In 2009, my first year as a school resource officer, kids were coming into my office after lunch and they were having tremors,” Parce said. “They’d come in, they’d be freaking out and have kind of a hallucination and came out of it. I’d ask them what they were smoking and they’d say, ‘I’m smoking weed.’”

Parce said he at first thought they may have overdosed on tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana. He eventually found out they were smoking synthetic marijuana, which was legal at the time.

Still legal, however, is Salvia divinorum, a powerful hallucinogenic plant native to Mexico that is sold as an alternative to marijuana in the United States, although its legality is currently under discussion. It has been banned in some states such as Delaware. Bills to ban the substance have also failed in several states and at the federal level.

Parce shared a story of one boy who smoked the substance at Lone Pine State Park and decided he could fly, running at the cliffs to jump off.

“Thankfully his friends were there and they were able to tackle him,” Parce said.

Also still legal but facing heavy Drug Enforcement Administration scrutiny and potential banning in Montana are bath salts. The drug, which contains one of the main ingredients in plant fertilizer, is marketed similarly to synthetic cannabinoids under such names as Ivory Wave and Vanilla Sky.

Bath salts first received national attention in 2012 following the “zombie attack” in Florida, in which a man under the influence of the drug assaulted another man and tried to eat his face.

Parce said he was once told by two teenage users that the drug provided them the best and cheapest high they had ever obtained. However, they also told him that coming down from the drug includes becoming violently ill and suffering extreme withdrawal symptoms.

House Bill 140 being considered by the state Legislature would place bath salts in the same category as marijuana, banning possession, sale, and use of the drug.

DURING OTHER comments on drug activity in the schools, Parce gave a brief overview of several other practices of which he has heard.

Among the alcohol abuse issues are “vodka eyeballing,” in which a person fills an eyedrop container with vodka and squirts it into their eyes, and “vodka enemas,” a self-explanatory process also known as “butt chugging.”

One problem Parce and Clarke have seen — predominantly among eighth-grade girls — is the use of inhalants. The users, they said, are huffing spray paint, whipped cream propellant and keyboard duster, among other compounds.

The officers also have seen a resurgence in the use of heroin in the valley since 2010, with Parce even catching a 13-year-old smoking it. They said that resurgence is the result of prescription narcotics that provide similar effects being reformulated by the manufacturer to be harder to smoke.

The current street price for heroin, according to Parce, is $40 per “point,” a single-use portion measuring one tenth of a gram.

Parce also warned parents about pharmaceutical or “pharm” parties. Admission to the parties is gained not by paying but by bringing prescription narcotics.

“You empty those pills into a bowl with somebody manning the door. Then you go in there and they pass that bowl around at a party where they’re consuming alcohol and they’ll pop these pills,” Parce said. “They don’t know what they are, they’re just popping random pills.”

He said he and the Alcohol Enforcement Team busted a pharm party last summer.

On the alcohol side, Parce and Clarke discussed the dangers of caffeinated alcoholic drinks such as Four Loko, Sparks, and Tilt.

“Those are the kids’ favorite,” Parce said. “They talk about it at school.”

The caffeine in the drinks masks the effects of the alcohol, which has a concentration of as much as 12 percent in the drinks, creating a higher risk of drinking to the point of alcohol poisoning.

Parce also said they see girls doing more binge drinking than boys and having competitions to see which girls can drink the most.

Other common practices are “robotripping” — drinking whole bottles of Robitussin, Nyquil, or similar substances in order to hallucinate — and “speedballing” — the same as robotripping, only with some sort of stimulant pill such as Sudafed dissolved in the bottle.

THE QUESTION THAT remains is how youths are distributing the drugs among themselves.

According to Parce, the answer to that question is simple and omnipresent — cellphones and Facebook.

“They’re really blunt about sending text messages, Facebook messages to each other about distribution,” Parce said.

Parce used one example of a student he recently caught involved in drug activity. When he brought the boy into his office, he asked if he could look at the boy’s Facebook account. Parce said he was immediately able to find all he needed.

“He is having an open conversation with six other individuals about obtaining the drugs, selling the drugs, and using the drugs over about a six-month period,” Parce said. “And his parents had absolutely no idea because they didn’t have access to his Facebook account.”

Both Parce and Clarke pushed the idea of parents having access to all of their children’s communications, be it through cellphones, a Facebook page or a second Facebook account they use to hide their activity from the parents.

Although they didn’t discuss how the drugs were physically transferred from student to student, Parce and Clarke touched on one such practice in which students hide the drugs in different locations in the school bathroom to be picked up by the purchaser.

IDEALLY, PARCE and Clarke would like Kalispell Middle School to have its own school resource officer, both to relieve some of their workload and to provide more direct intervention at the secondary school.

Parce and Clarke currently share duties at the middle school. Parce is based out of Glacier High School and covers all Kalispell schools north of Center Street while Clarke is based out of Flathead High School and covers all the schools south of Center Street.

“There used to be [a school resource officer at the middle school] and then we got Glacier High School, so now the resource officer is dedicated to the high school,” Parce said. “The chief of police is trying right now to get the funding, that’s his primary goal this year for our budget year — to get an SRO full time at the middle school. We need one there.”

Until then, Parce and Clarke will continue to work together, targeting the drugs in Kalispell’s schools and helping to keep the schools’ students moving forward.

Reporter Jesse Davis may be reached at 758-4441 or by email at jdavis@dailyinterlake.com.

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