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Teens and Drugs – K2 and Spice are Banned, but What Fix is Next?


Drug du jour K2 is now illegal in Michigan. But that doesn't mean parents can rest easy. What's at the heart of teen drug use? And what can families and communities do?

By Megan Krueger
August, 2012
Nearly two years ago, Bill Miskokomon began noticing a dramatic shift in his 16-year-old son's personality.
"He was not the kid I knew at all," the Shelby Township dad recalls. "I knew it wasn't him, and I couldn't reach him."
The blank stares, slipping grades and countless fights were too much to brush off as typical teen rebellion. Miskokomon, who asked that his teen son not be named, started to wonder if his son was using drugs. He administered drug tests to his son when it was time for the teen to get a driver's license, but the results came up clean each time.
"I had a false sense of security," he says of the negative tests – but he knew his child "still wasn't acting himself." As his relationship with his son further dwindled, he continued searching for the reason why.
Desperate for answers, Miskokomon searched the teenager's bedroom and found small, silvery packages labeled "potpourri."
A worried Miskokomon researched the substance online and discovered the potpourri he found in his son's room was actually K2, or "Spice" – a synthetic drug made of herbs, sprayed with chemicals and manufactured to mock the effects of marijuana when smoked, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
The designer drug didn't show up on drug tests, was addictive, and – shockingly enough – was perfectly legal.
Miskokomon's son, now 17, had been smoking K2 for about a year and a half when Miskokomon found out. The teen had been buying it at a local gas station and smoke shop.
"It was like living a nightmare," Miskokomon says of that time. "A lot of times I'd worry if he was coming home, (or) if I was going to find him alive in the morning."
K2 received big headlines this summer as communities from Ann Arbor to Detroit to the entire county of Macomb passed ordinances banning the sale of it and other synthetic drugs, such as "bath salts." Within weeks, the state legislature fast-tracked a bill banning the sale of the drug statewide, and Gov. Rick Snyder officially kiboshed K2's legal status by signing the bill into law on June 19, 2012.
But while parents and politicians rejoiced, drug treatment experts and law enforcement officials had a more tempered response. They, after all, are on the front lines of teen drug use, and were well aware that K2 was just the latest teen drug trend. Banning one type of drug – while crucial – was just one battle in a war that may never be won.
After all, approximately 50 percent of high school seniors have tried an illicit drug in their lifetimes, and approximately 20 percent of eighth-graders have done the same, according to the national "Monitoring the Future Study" released by the University of Michigan in December 2011.
The prevalence, the problem and the publicity beg the question: Is there any way to stop teens from getting high?

Why teens do drugs

As long as there have been drugs, teens have experimented with them. The risky teenage behavior has to do with brain development, says Dr. Charlene McGunn, executive director of Chippewa Valley Coalition for Youth and Families, an anti-drug organization based in Clinton Township.
"The brain of an adolescent is research-proven to be a work in progress," she says, noting that MRI studies have shown "the brain is really not fully developed … until into the 20s."
"The area of the brain that is last to develop" – known as the prefrontal cortex – "is what promotes decision making," she says. Hence, a premature prefrontal cortex can cause teens to make bad decisions or take risks.
Of course, there are social reasons teens dabble with drugs, too.
"Kids are curious and they will try things," says Mark Hackel, Macomb County's executive and former county sheriff. Hackel helped Macomb become one of the first counties in southeast Michigan to ban the sale of K2 in early June.
Hackel says "it's not one thing" that causes teens to try drugs. Rather, he thinks, "it has a lot to do with society in general."
Hackel says teens sometimes try drugs and drink alcohol because of the examples they're seeing on TV, among peers or even in their own homes.
"Parents provide a terrible example to kids sometimes," Hackel says.
For example, if parents come home from a party and tell a friend on the phone about how drunk they were, or if they come home from work and drink several beers a night, they're sending their teen the message that "it can't be that bad," he says.
"We unfortunately don't set a very good example for kids in our daily lives," Hackel says. "(The) reality is we don't realize the impact we're having on kids."
When all of these influences mix with teenage curiosity, kids try drugs for the first time – or "the worst time," as Hackel puts it, because the teen is then "always chasing that same high."
McGunn says that a majority of alcoholics and drug users began using during adolescence.
"We don't know the long-term implications of drug use on the developing brain," McGunn says. "What we do know is that if we can postpone the use of alcohol until the age of 21, we will not, very likely, have an alcoholic."

The powerful role parents play

Following the battle to get his son help and inform others about K2's dangers, Miskokomon has formulated advice for other parents: "Get more involved."
Parents, he says, are "so busy" with their "day-to-day lives" that sometimes, they believe "as long as my kids aren't in trouble, they're fine."
"I just think as parents, we need to step back and take time with our kids," Miskokomon says. "Pay attention to what's going on in their lives."
And if parents see a change in their teen's behavior, he says, "Ask why."
As McGunn has found through the teen focus groups she studies with her coalition, teens want their parents to be involved in their lives, and studies have shown that parental involvement is one of the biggest factors in preventing teen drug use.
"(Teens) don't want parents to be controlling their every movement," she says, but "they want parents to be involved. They really want parents to listen." When parents supervise their teens' actions and whereabouts, get involved at their schools and listen to their thoughts and feelings – even those they don't like – teens feel protected and cared for.
"All the common-sense parenting ideas are really the most important things that can occur for kids to keep them from experimenting," she says.
Teens are susceptible to making bad decisions based on their premature brains, so "parental presence is so very important" to help kids make the right choices, McGunn says.

What parents can do

To talk to teens about drugs, parents must be informed, McGunn stresses.
"In terms of what parents should be aware of, I think it starts with parents educating themselves on current trends," she says.
The next step is having a conversation about drugs with kids at a young age.
"Basically by starting to ask what the teen knows, (and) what they're observing," parents can start the dialogue, she says. She suggests parents also do this by "expressing considerable concern about any drug – alcohol, marijuana, tobacco – really anything at all that might be used."
And again, parents should also keep in mind the examples they're setting for teens, Hackel says.
"I think they need to start realizing it's our responsibility to set the tone," he says. "We don't realize that we're role models and mentors to kids – not just kids in our own homes."
McGunn suggests parents occasionally throw parties at their home that don't include alcohol, for example, since alcohol is "the primary drug that teens are going to see their parents use.
"It sends a distinct message that you can celebrate and have a good time without alcohol," she says.
Peers also play a large role in influencing teenagers. Therefore, McGunn says parents should get to know their teen's friends.
"One of the ways of determining whether a teen uses is whether they're associated with other teens who use," she says.

Fighting the never-ending battle

Sometimes, though, parents cannot stop their teens from trying drugs.
Miskokomon says he talked to his teen about drugs, and spent a lot of time in his son's life – from Boy Scouts and baseball to attending parent-teacher conferences.
"You can't stay on your kids 24/7. There's so much peer pressure out there," he says.
But Miskokomon's message to other parents whose kids are doing drugs is "not to give up on their kids." Today, Miskokomon's 17-year-old son is back home in Michigan after completing a 30-day drug rehab program in South Dakota.
"He did great," Miskokomon says, but adds that his son still "has a long road ahead of him."
While other teens across the nation face similar roads to recovery, new drugs will threaten to wreak havoc on teen lives.
"There's always going to be the drug of the day," McGunn admits. "However, that doesn't mean that parents can't inoculate their children so they're less likely to use it."
The best way to reduce teen drug use is to fight the demand, Hackel says.
"(It's) K2 today, but what's it going to be tomorrow? Something different," he says. "We can't constantly be chasing after the supply when there's the demand. How do we get people to say, 'We don't want to do drugs?'"
Getting teens to avoid trying drugs is a community effort, McGunn says, and everybody in the community – from law enforcement and churches to schools and coalitions – have a place in doing so.
Yet in the end, "It's always going to come back to good parenting," she says, and when you bring all areas of the community together on the issue, "the head of the table is always going to be the parents."
  Concert Combines Band and Choir  
  By Hannah Warren  
  Oct 21, 2010  
On October 21, band and choir students from Chippewa Valley impressed their audience in their annual collage concert. The collage concert is a fundraiser that provides a chance for both band and choir classes to take the stage together and show people in the audience the joys of both instrumental and vocal music. According to Mr. Timothy Hoey and Mr. Kent Wattleworth, the band and choir directors, this concert is always popular with parents.
This year the band and choir surprised everybody with a combined piece between the full choir and the wind ensemble. It was called “O Fortuna” from the Carmina Burana, a rather intense and dark masterpiece. It proved to be the favorite.
  The show went on with seamless transitions between both band and choir after each group played through a song. One choir student, Chantel Boyd stated, “I liked the collaboration between the band and choir.”  
  Then, of course, marching band came on and finished up the night with their upbeat music, and colorful displays from their flag twirlers.  
  It takes a lot of dedication for both director and performer to make this concert possible. According to Boyd, choir has been practicing since the first day of school. Marching band begins practicing before the school year even starts at camp. The bands practice every day, both at home and school.  
  “You have to stay on top of things, and know your students well,” Wattleworth stated. Mr. Hoey wishes they could have practice time on Dakota’s stage even before the day of the show. “It would help out both the concert and stage tech workers,” he stated.  
  Chippewa Turns Dakota Red for Suicide Awareness  
  By Lauren Jacks  
  Oct 16, 2010  
  On October 16, students from both Chippewa Valley High School and Dakota High School put their controversies behind them and teamed up to participate in the 5K walk at Dakota for suicide awareness.  
  Suicide is the third leading cause of death for people who are 15-24. However, it is preventable through education and intervention, which is how Chippewa chooses to handle this. CVHS claimed that this was "Hero in the Hallway" week, hoping that anybody who witnessed bullying in and out of school would attempt to put a stop to it.  
  Reinforcing the entire idea of "Hero in the Hallway,” an assembly was held later that week with guest speaker “Dennis” Liegghio, who lost a loved one to suicide when he was only 14. He told the students his heartfelt story of losing his father and how he struggled with his own thoughts of suicide long after. "I wrote the song ‘Know Resolve’ which put me on a different path and helped me release my emotions," Dennis said.  
  "I finally found a way to express myself. I was later invited to the Macomb County Survivors of Suicide group meeting, which was overwhelming," Dennis claimed. "I
thought I was alone," he added.
  In reality, he wasn't alone. There are thousands of other people in the “same boat” as Dennis. Now he holds an annual "Be Aware Walk for Suicide Prevention" at Dakota, where hundreds of people sign up to raise money for the Chippewa Valley Coalition for Youth and Families and the Know Resolve organizations.  
  Top fundraiser Mary DeClerck, with $1,700, said, "This [the Suicide Walk] was a great turnout. Even though we didn't reach our goal of $20,000, we raised almost four times more than we did last year!" In fact, this walk raised over $15,000.  
  The ratio of Chippewa to Dakota students favored the Big Reds. "I was surprised to find more people representing Chippewa than Dakota, but Coach Murphy did an amazing job advertising it," Chippewa sophomore Emily Racey claimed.  
  Out of everything presented to the students that week, from the songs Dennis sang, to the tear jerking stories of lost family members from walkers, Dennis wants everyone to know that "talking about suicide helps. Don't hold your emotions in, don't try to act tough. Please go to www.knowresolve.org and read more."  
  Opinion Editorial / News Story  
  NHS Inducts New Members  
  By Samantha Hull  
  Oct 20, 2010  
  The Tomahawk Staff  
    Samantha Hull  
    Lauren Jacks  
    Colleen Langlands  
    Kayla Leach  
    William Perkins  
    Kyle Roberts  
    Hannah Warren  
    Natalie Weber  
    Colleen Langlands  
    John Spreitzer  
Students, parents, and staff walked into the dark auditorium at Chippewa with four unlit candles waiting upon a table on an empty stage. Once lit, the glow of these candles would represent the essence of an organization that would shape these students' lives and their community, as well.
On October 20, the National Honor Society held it's annual Induction Ceremony for new inductees. Fifty-nine new members were inducted this year, joining the 62 current members.
The advisors for NHS are Ruth Moore and Nicole Faehner. "I think the Induction Ceremonywent well. The Executive Board did a great job with their speeches, the vocal performance
  was fantastic, and Mr. Spreitzer' speech was inspirational,” Moore stated.  
  During the ceremony, members of the Executive Board and officers of NHS gave speeches regarding the four pillars of the National Honor Society, which are Scholarship, Service, Leadership, and Character. These pillars represent the characteristics of members of NHS and the model of what new and current members should strive for.  
  The current officers of NHS are President Caitlin Heath, Vice President Sarah Popko, Treasurer Tuan Doan, and Secretary Nicole Calandrino. "In order to accomplish everything that needed to be done, a lot of effort was required," Heath stated regarding the extensive planning of the ceremony.  
  One of the tasks of the Executive Board was to choose a keynote speaker for the ceremony. These students agreed that Spreitzer, an English teacher at Chippewa, resembled the pillars of NHS the best and he was selected for the honor. According to Heath, "We thought Mr. Spreitzer wrote a very insightful speech," which referenced all four pillars of NHS and also the Peace Corps.  
  After Spreitzer's speech, Rachelle Livi and Emily Ward gave a vocal performance, followed by the inductees reciting the NHS pledge and the inductees signing the NHS book.  
  As members of NHS, students have to attend periodic meetings, maintain their grades and citizenship, and volunteer 40 hours in their community during the school year. Some examples of volunteering are to assist with elementary school activities and tutoring.  
  Students Need Courage, Not Apathy, to Stop Bullying  
  By Colleen Langlands  
  Lately, it seems that everything has been about the hero in the hallway program. Seeing Dr. Suzanne Spurr in the lunchroom, trying to sell t-shirts, is not an odd occurrence. Students were asked to sign a pledge to not bully, and to stop bullying completely. However, many students wonder whether the program is doing anything at all.  
  “I’ll see kids in the lunchroom, talking to Dr. Spurr and claiming to be following the Hero in the Hallway program. But, then, I’ll see those same kids in the halls later, making fun of other kids. It’s not right,” senior Melissa Martlock, said. Indeed, it seems that students only sign the pledge because they are told to, and because it will look bad if they don’t. This is a major problem.  
  The program is there to help, but it seems that it’s not being taken very seriously by a portion of the student body.  
  Incentives haven’t seemed to work either. Last year, there was a drawing every week, and if that person was wearing their Hero in the Hallway merchandise, they would win something. Seniors who wore a Hero in the Hallway t-shirt or bracelet on Wednesdays could also win something. Sure, the idea was nice, but it didn’t seem to rid the halls of bullying.  
  “Yeah, I haven’t really seen a difference. I don’t really feel like anyone takes it all that seriously. Kids just wear the shirts to seem ironic,” senior Nicole Sherrill said.  
  Many feel that the signing of little pieces of paper and wearing of certain tshirts does nothing to stop those whobully. Well, of course these outward signs don’t stop bullying, they only raise awareness. It is up to students to have the courage to act on their commitment and stop the acts of bullying in the hallways or identify those involved to teachers and administrators so that bullies can be stopped once and for all.  
  “Maybe, I don’t know, everyone could just try a little harder? If everyone just stepped back for a second and made the choice to be nicer to those around them, we could get rid of bullying altogether,” senior Katie Lambert suggested.  
  That sounds like a great idea, don’t you think?  
  Feature/News Stories  
  Sports Stars Come Back to Big Red Roots  
  By Hannah Warren  
  Oct 23, 2010  
  On October 23, men and women gathered with family and friends in the humble hallways of Chippewa Valley to receive the great honor of being recognized on the wall of fame located down the athletics hallway. This event is known as the Hall of Fame Induction ceremony.  
  According to Diane Zatkoff, Ninth Grade Center principal, this ceremony has been going on since 1998, and occurs every four years. Nominees are selected by the Hall of Fame committee which is made up of administrators and both past and present coaches. In order to be nominated, the athlete must have had good grades while attending the school and claimed an all state status in a sport. However, each potential candidate must wait ten years before being eligible for consideration for this honor.  
  When people entered the schools auditorium it was filled with a regal "red" pride. One inductee, Jim Deliz, a former Big Red baseball player, said that this school had opened up a lot of good opportunities for him and had given him a lot of help. He now works in a family business, Tenibac Graphion, for his father. Some advice he'd like to give to students today is something he heard from his own father twenty years ago and never forgot. "Accept the responsibility of doing things the right way."  
  Another inductee, Dave Kauflin, who was Mr. Baseball and was drafted by the Detroit Tigers in 1994, stated that the athletes in the school today should try as hard as they can and listen to their coaches. Kauflin now works construction and plays golf and softball regularly.  
  The night kicked off with a power point of old yearbook photos (both headshot and athletic) of all the different inductees. This warmed the crowd up and brought about reminiscing from that certain game that each person had played in to remarks about the "goofy" track shorts.  
  The ceremony then continued on to its segment of inducting a coach onto the wall. This year's inductee was Dan Phillips, who was once a coach of the women's cross country and track teams.  
  There were many stories, jokes, and different shout-outs about each inductee as they took the stage. At one point during the night, there was even a raffle to give away different Big Red apparel to inductees. "It takes more than just effort on the playing field to be an inductee. It takes character, hard work, and effort," Zatkoff stated. All of the inductees embodied that statement, and perhaps even more, on this particular night.  
  Parents and Teachers Communicate at Conferences  
  By Will Perkins  
  Oct 13 - 14, 2010  
  A common phrase heard from teachers is, "I don't give out grades, you earn them." A student's grades are solely reflective of his or her effort, and no one else's. So if parents can't earn grades for students, why are Parent-Teacher conferences (held October 13 and 14 this year) so important, and what role does the parent play on the student's education?  
  "Until you're eighteen you're still a kid under your parents. They have a right to know how you're doing in school." sophomore Nick Kutskill said while discussing parent teacher conferences. Freshman Randee Calandrino said "Your parents can help you, and if you're doing well, you can get rewarded."  
  "They can be an useful tool to create a line of communication to the parents," teacher Brian Weitzel said. He emphasized that this was especially true for the parents that teachers need to see. "It helps the kids who are on the fence", Weitzel continued. The ones "who are leaning towards failing get the extra support from both us [the teachers] and the parents," he emphasized.  
  English teacher Matthew Brown also had a few things to say about the importance of Parent-Teacher conferences. "They help me to keep in conference with parents. Sometimes I learn things about students. I'm certain parents learn things about students." Brown's response to this year's Parent-Teacher conferences was especially positive. "I think there's been a high attendance rate," he said, "and I've had a high attendance from students who are struggling.The more parent involvement the better," Brown emphasized. "I've had some scary conferences but I definitely think they're a positive thing."  
  Weitzel has also had his share of conferences with the parents of struggling students. "I don't think they are effective," he said, "but I do think it is the right of the parent to meet us and I do think it is our professional duty to meet with the parents and to give them some insight into their child, because collectively teachers might see students more than the parents." However, "If it helps one kid, then it's worth it," Weitzel added.  
"I think it's a great thing that we have them at progress report time because otherwise it's like an autopsy rather than a check-up. I think it's a positive thing for the students who are struggling." Brown concluded.
  Sports Stories  
  Chippewa Valley Men’s Soccer Comes to a Finish  
  By Samantha Hull  
  Oct 29, 2010  
  The Chippewa Valley Men's soccer team ended the 2010 season on October 20 at Stevenson High School.  
  The team made it to the second round in Districts, but lost to Sterling Heights by one goal. They finished with a record of 7-1-2 in the MAC Red.  
  The team was led by three captains this year: seniors Troy Mannino, Corey Messinger, and David Pociecha. According to junior Mark Dreshaj, the team was comprised of a total of nine seniors, twelve juniors, and three sophomores. "We were almost always solid in the back and moved the ball around well," Dreshaj, a defender on the team, noted.  
  "The highlight of this season was beating the undefeated (at that time) Stevenson, while we were playing away," senior Troy Mannino commented. Chippewa Valley won this game by a single goal over Stevenson on September 20. This win over Stevenson is even more impressive, looking back, since Stevenson recently won the Regional Championship on October 29.  
  Men's soccer is coached by Gerry Haggarty, who also coaches women's soccer at Chippewa Valley. Pociecha said that Coach Haggarty "would always make a way to help us play better each game during halftime. He would motivate us to work harder than each opponent on the other team and have fun at the same time."  
  During the first round of Districts, on October 18, Chippewa Valley played away at L'anse Creuse. The Big Reds were able to get a victory there, with a 6-2 win over L'anse Creuse. The team later lost to Sterling Heights, 2-1, in the semifinals of Districts. This loss prevented Chippewa from playing in the District final against Stevenson.  
  Women Runners Develop Character and Skills  
  By Kyle Roberts  
  It's about developing strong character. The girls cross country team runs to compete with other schools in battle, but they also run to compete with themselves.  
  Coach Tymrak's essential belief is that cross country's purpose is to develop "scholar athletes who pride themselves in knowing they have done everything they possibly can to be an effective team member as they represent their school in the community."  
  Every day he works to help the team take one step closer to not only competing stronger, but also helping them understand what it means to be an athlete.  
  While Coach Tymrak helps instill these morals, he puts forth a training program built around consistency. "It's not really the miles that are so significant, but rather the consistency of training over time that will help bring our runners closer to their potential."  
  "The team can improve by maintaining a sustained and consistent daily effort in the remainder of our practices this season," Coach Tymrak emphasized. He noted the great of improvement in all his runners over the past year, most notably in freshman Sam Pizzo, and sophomore Sarahbeth Tuttle.  
  The team also has Rachel Walney, a freshman who qualified for states. "She's very self-motivated, and with that she helps push the other girls on the team to be as good as she is," team member Erin Kupps said.  
  "We would like to build a team that will compete each season for MAC championship, along with being one of the top teams in our county," Tymrak emphasized. With returning runners such as Pizzo, Tuttlle, and Walney, that goal does not seem out of reach.  
  "Coaching girls cross country is well worth the challenges that each day may bring; no two days are alike and that is exactly why I enjoy coaching the girls' team," Tymrak concluded.  
  CVHS Women’s Swim Team Finishes Season with a Splash  
  By Kayla Leach  
  Chippewa Valley High School's Women's swim team brought its successful season to a close this past month of October. The entire team, composed of freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors, swam their way through a series of challenging meets.  
  Meets consisting of both team and individual events required dedication from both the swimmers and their coaches. The girls practice two to three hours, three days a week, with an optional Saturday morning practice. According to Head Coach Tony Grice, the team is in the Red Division, the highest of division rankings.  
  Key swimmers also helped the team at a meet against Dakota High School, walking away victorious. Coach Grice had high commendations for freshman Erika Willson and Skyler Muzichuk, sophomore Samantha Gray, and seniors Shaina Kulczycki, Brianne Shock, and Lauren Williams. Diver Ashley Felcyn was also mentioned.  
  "We were close going into the meet at Dakota," Coach Grice commented. "But we were able to win in the end."  
  The team was able to meet goals such as a win at the county meet and overall improvements at every meet. As the season comes to a close, Coach Grice said, "You can look forward to us doing well at division and improving our times."  
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