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Associated Press Published: February 20, 2012
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Drugs on campus

(For use by New York Times News Service Clients)

c.2012 Houston Chronicle< In recent weeks, teens have covertly handed out addictive prescription drugs on three school campuses that have made scores of students sick in the Houston area.

A fourth campus also recently ended an undercover drug investigation with the arrest of a dozen students who authorities say were mostly peddling prescription drugs.

The recent movement of these abused drugs from so-called pill mills to school hallways has alarmed administrators and law enforcement.

''There's been a huge shift in what we're finding on school campuses compared to what we saw even a few years ago. Prescriptions are the new dope front, because they're cheap and accessible," said Angleton school district Police Chief James Gayle, who ran the undercover operation. "This is not a localized problem. It's a national epidemic."

For four months, Gayle had an undercover agent pose as a student in his Brazoria County school district. This agent, Gayle said, was repeatedly approached to buy controlled substances such as hydrocodone, oxycodone and Ritalin - rather than the usual street drugs like methamphetamines or cocaine.

School administrators are particularly concerned about the prevalence of prescription drugs on school campuses because most drug dogs aren't trained to detect the new menace.

Also, students are lulled into a false belief that prescription drugs won't hurt them, even though authorities say the controlled substances are just as deadly. In recent years, Houston has become a national hot spot for prescription drug abuse with hundreds dying in Harris County from overdoses.

Oxycontin, Haldol

At least 16 students were exposed to a pill that contained a potent combination of Oxycontin (a narcotic pain reliever) and Haldol (an anti-psychotic drug) at Royal High School in Brookshire on Jan. 10. Nine were hospitalized for ailments such as convulsions that can be delayed for several hours after taking the drugs.

''We didn't know one kid had ingested any of this drug until he passed out the next day," said Royal ISD Superitendent Nathaniel Richardson. "He had a very bad reaction. We were afraid he was going to die, but now he's back at school."

The teenager who dispensed that drug has since been charged with possession and distribution of a controlled substance, and the others who took it have been sent to the district's alternative school.

A second incident occurred Jan. 31 at Cleveland High School when 16 students ingested Lorazepam, a drug used to treat anxiety, insomnia and acute seizures. The drug is also illegally sold for those wanting to get high or use its sedative effects as a "date rape drug."

''We don't know how many pills each student took," said Cleveland ISD spokeswoman Stacey Gatllin, but the district became aware of the problem when students became suddenly ill and started showing up at the nurse's office.

''Some were vomiting and stumbling around. Others were lethargic," she said. "I think they got scared when they saw their friends getting sick."

Nine of the 16 were rushed by ambulance to the hospital, where they were treated and released. Four have been charged with possession or delivery of a controlled substance and the rest assigned to the district's alternative school for 30 days.

'New frontier'

On Thursday, Gatlin said district officials discovered a small white pill had been illegally dispensed to seven students at Cleveland Middle School.

Only two students had ingested the pill and started vomiting and exhibiting other odd behaviors. One of them was taken to the hospital for treatment, while the other was released to his parent. The pill has been sent to a lab to be analyzed.

''We are still vigorously looking into this case," said Cleveland ISD Police Chief Antonio Ford. "This is a new frontier, and we want to be pro-active."

Authorities warn parents to lock their medicine cabinets, as this can sometimes be a fertile source of these potent drugs.

But no one has yet discovered a foolproof way to stop this new threat.

''If I had that answer, every superintendent in the state of Texas would want it," said Richardson, Royal's superintendent.

cindy.horswell(at)chron.com XXX - End of Story<3D>


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