High school's approach to drugs is mostly right

Drug problem at Hilton Head Island High School requies straightforward approach.

info@islandpacket.comFebruary 18, 2014 

Hilton Head Island High School principal Amanda O'Nan knows how to get the attention of her teenage students.

On Friday, O'Nan held a student assembly in which she described the terror of trying to revive a student who had overdosed on Xanax. "I want to go over the feeling of what it's like when you see a student go down ... and you hear your nurse call out, 'I can't find a pulse, they're not breathing,'" O'Nan said.

Such straight talk is needed. Since Jan. 22, eight drug-related incidents at the school have resulted in disciplinary action and 911 has been called twice. The Hilton Head Island Fire & Rescue Division has responded to calls at the high school five times since Dec. 1, although we do not know the exact reasons for the calls.

An unknown number of students have been experimenting with mixing Xanax, a prescription narcotic, and Coricidin, an over-the-counter cold-and-cough medicine.

With a problem like this, it would be easy for O'Nan and district leaders to look the other way. It would be simpler to listen to those who say the school might get a bad reputation as a drug magnet, so let's not mention it. It would make O'Nan's workload much lighter to turn a blind eye or back down to the parents who have complained that all students are being punished for the actions of a few.

But to do so would be to ignore the fact that teenagers are often drawn to experimentation but can fail to realize the consequences. A Xanax/Coricidin concoction is a dangerous and potentially fatal cocktail, particularly for some students who have admitted to taking three times the recommended amount of both drugs, and, in some cases, even more.

With one notable exception, we applaud O'Nan's head-on approach and the district's backing of it.

The response has included faculty education, so teachers and other school employees are aware of the terms students use to identify the drugs, as well as symptoms typical for someone under their influence; closing an isolated bathroom rumored to be the place where drug sales happen and banning students from bringing liquids to school in opaque containers or unsealed water bottles. (Students are thought to mix the drugs with water and sip them throughout the day.) It's also good that Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner has gotten involved, checking to see if other area schools are experiencing a similar problem and tracking down the Xanax suppliers.

But we're not convinced that the dozens of student searches that have been conducted since the problem was first detected are necessary.

Currently, an administrator may search a student's belongings, with another administrator in the room, if there is a tip that the student is involved with the drugs or if a student is suspected of being high. Parents are alerted to the search afterward.

Students are not touched during searches, but asked to turn out their pockets. Book bags and vehicles are also searched if the administrator deems it necessary. With Xanax/Coricidin cases, administrators are carefully inspecting students' mechanical pencils, pens, highlighters and the insole of their shoes where pills can be hidden.

While student searches are nothing new -- they are conducted throughout the school year at district schools for suspicion of everything from a student carrying a gun to drugs -- we believe searches are a law enforcement function, not something to be carried out by educators in a school setting. If there is adequate rationale to warrant a search, then the school resource officer or law enforcement should be called to handle the job.

Short of this, we believe the school and district are on the right track.

This past week was the first in several the school did not have to call the paramedics or take disciplinary action related to drugs. Here's hoping it's the start of a new kind of trend.

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