Valley teenagers are turning to synthetic drugs that are widely available, as evidenced by last week’s incident at Mesa High School.
Seven students reported feeling ill and were found to have high blood pressure and rapid heart rates. Four were transported to a hospital. One told police he had smoked spice.
Spice a substance often sold as an incense in smoke shops. And while the state Legislature has made moves to ban ingredients in the synthetic drug, manufacturers change the composition to get it back on the market. Like marijuana, it is most often smoked, though it does not give off the same scent.
“Groups are moving much faster than the legal system can move to change around components to still provide it over the counter,” said David Shuff, director of guidance for the Mesa Unified School District.
Shuff’s department works with students who are found to display drug behavior. On first offense, they are given an automatic five-day suspension with recommendation for a longer suspension.
But then they are also given the option to take part in the district’s Taking Charge program, an anti-drug program that must be attended by student and at least one parent. Participants must attend four workshops in a row – they are held on Tuesday and Thursday nights – before they can return to school, unless a family is referring a student to counseling or rehabilitation. The class focuses on teaching students to make good choices and points out the consequences of bad ones.
Shuff said a few years ago, the most common drug found to be used by students was alcohol. But there’s been a shift now to marijuana, he said, and spice is often classified under the same offense.
“We are seeing more marijuana than alcohol. A lot of that was fueled by spice,” he said. “Synthetic drugs have become accessible enough that it’s probably in some ways easier for a kid to get spice than cigarettes … If a kid is busted for marijuana, it was probably spice. We’re seeing it used interchangeably.”
But it doesn’t matter if it’s spice – in a “legal” form – or marijuana. The school district consequences can be the same.
“Our policies and regulations do not require us to determine whether or not it is an illegal substance if a kid comes to school under the influence,” Shuff said.
But police do get involved when necessary.
“When you’re dealing with drugs or illegal drugs, it can be a police action,” Mesa Police Det. Steve Berry said. “At the senior highs, we have school resource officers to deal with issues on campus. Drugs can be one of them. Certainly if a kid is caught on campus with any type of drug or substance, the SRO (school resource officer) will be notified and take appropriate action,” including trying to figure out where the student received the substance.
Shuff said last school year, 650 students participated in Taking Charge, less than 2 percent of the student enrollment.
“In most cases, kids who have been caught take Taking Charge. A majority go on to be successful in school and finish up. Hopefully, it was an isolated incident,” he said. Student who are caught a second time in a calendar year may be referred to an alternative school where they’ll get involved in Community Bridges’ “Project Success” program. Community Bridges offers community prevention and education as well as treatment programs in the Valley.