Editor's note: In its 1999 survey of students in grades 9 through 12, the Nevada Department of Education reported that half had used marijuana at least once, and about one in 10 had tried some form of cocaine.
The Nevada Appeal asked Kathy Robinson, a Carson High School senior and Appeal employee, to assess drug use among Carson high-school age youths by talking to students, school officials and local experts.
Names of students quoted in the article have been changed to protect their identity.
Shannon started doing drugs when she was 12. She started out with marijuana, then went on to mushrooms and acid. Shannon is a 17-year-old senior at Carson High School.
"I went to crank (methamphetamines) when I was 15," she said. "I've never done heroine, but when I was really messed up on all these other drugs, someone tried to force the needle into my arm. I stopped doing drugs because when I was at a party one day I did a little too much crank and I overdosed. I almost died and it scared me."
Shannon has been clean for six months. She hasn't had any alcohol in two months.
Every school has a drug problem of sorts; some schools more so than others. Carson High Principal Glen Adair said that Carson High is no worse, maybe better than any other school in Nevada.
But how bad is the problem that every school has? Carson High has three safety enforcement officers and one uniformed policeman on duty at all times during school hours, and a security system which includes dozens of cameras around the school and its grounds.
However, the eye of the law can't see all, and the students of Carson High have real problems on and off campus. Every school has a "few" people who smoke marijuana. The students of Carson High say that drugs can go much farther than just a joint every now and then. Drugs change lives, drugs can end lives, and the children of Carson City want their community to know what's really going on with them.
Tilisa May, director of the Ron Woods Family Resource Center, deals with children who are considered "high risk," which means they have trouble with attendance, fights, grades, family and drugs.
May said 63 percent of the high-risk students who come through her center use tobacco products, 55 percent drink alcohol and 43 percent use one or more illegal drugs.
"I don't think it's any better or worse than other communities," May said. "Kids have got a lot of stuff to deal with today. We see a certain core group, but kids are still kids."
The Ron Woods Center, as well as the Boys & Girls Club, offer several programs such as anger management classes which are designed to keep teenagers off drugs.
"I'm high right now," said Norman as he sat in the high school cafeteria. Norman's uncle started him on marijuana. "I was like 9. He was talking about (Viet) Nam and pulled out a 'fat bong.' I got a contact high. That was the first time I learned to take a hit off a bong."
Norman smokes weed, and said he does some "acid here and there, crank, cocaine, 'shrooms, 'ludes ...."
"I was at a party one time and I was messed up and I told Dr. Seuss to (expletive) off for like two hours. I was carrying a trash can around and puking in it."
The day that Norman shared his story, he got in trouble for drug use. He came to school the next day with a haircut, dressed in slacks, a white shirt and a vest. Some people didn't even recognize him. He said he's got to start turning his life around.
"Carson High is a well-run school that is populated, for the most part, by outstanding men and women," Adair said. "We try and stand, at least as the high school in town, not only for what's legally right, but for what's morally right."
Orlandon Sanchez, a safety enforcement officer at the high school, said he doesn't see a major problem.
"As far as busts, we don't get very many. Those things are a real minimum. We just don't see it that much," he stated.
Sanchez said that the public, law enforcement and school officials are not ignorant to what goes on in their community and their schools. He said they address all of the issues that "concern all of us with our young people" in a proactive manner.
"You can always improve on the programs you have, and we continually do that. There's a constant growth," Sanchez said.
Michael, another senior, said he brings marijuana to school almost daily and smokes it at school every chance he gets. He smokes it at least four more times after school before he goes to bed.
"No one does it on campus anymore," he said. "They do it during school, but not on campus," an assertion that some disagree with. Michael said he smokes weed a bit too much.
"It is a waste of money, but if I didn't enjoy it, I wouldn't do it. I've already quit three times, but I've smoked weed all my life. I've done acid and 'shrooms since freshman year. I tried crank, but I didn't like it."
Michael thinks that people who do drugs are unfairly blamed for Carson High's problems. "Everyone says that people who do drugs bring bad (expletive) here. We're the ones that are laid back. We don't start fights and stuff. I've got more endurance than most people. I run, and work out a lot."
"I certainly think drugs are an issue," said Carson City School District Superintendent Jim Parry. "You see that through children demonstrating use of drugs in their lives. Whether it's at a football game, a school activity or privately in their homes. Some parents condone it."
Parry said that while any and all drugs are probably available in Carson City, alcohol seems to be the drug of choice among high school students.
"I think it's clear that a significant number of Carson City high school students have issues with drug use. Everything you suppose about drugs is true," he stated.
Parry also explained that the community is taking action to deal with students who have issues with substance abuse whether it be to help them, arrest them, or both. He said that there are several steps to take in dealing with drug abuse. They include identifying the problem, rehabilitation, and in some cases sanctions.
Mary, a sophomore, said she started drinking, doing acid, crank and pot when she moved to Carson two and a half years ago. She quit three months ago.
"I got arrested twice in one day, so I quit everything except alcohol," she said. "It's very rare for people to quit and not go back within six months. I'm still going to counseling. Everybody in my house does drugs."
Mary said when she got arrested she was on crank and had been awake for three weeks. Crank causes sleep deprivation and hallucinations.
"I had been up for so long I was hallucinating. I weighed less than a hundred pounds. Sitting in the holding cell was very scary."
June James, juvenile probation officer, described the penalties for underage alcohol and drug abusers. Minor consumption, possession and purchase of alcohol are all the same. The first offense is a six-hour drug and alcohol education class conducted two nights a week by an attorney and a drug and alcohol abuse counselor. Parents must attend classes with their children. A second offense would result in a 90-day driver's license suspension, and a third offense would be punishable with eight hours of community service and a $50 fine.
Sheila Banister, senior probation officer, said that the punishments and fines become more severe as the offense becomes more serious. If a problem continues it will end up in front of a juvenile court judge, a drug and alcohol evaluation will be conducted, and the offender could be placed on probation.
"You don't have to be holding a beer to be charged with possession." said James. If two people are at a party and a beer is sitting between them, they could both be arrested for possession. Sometimes everyone at a party where underaged drinking is involved can be arrested.
"First offense, marijuana, is automatic probation," stated Banister. The probation can last six months to a year, or even up the the offender's 21st birthday.
The juvenile Probation Center offers outpatient counseling for substance abuse, and depending on the seriousness of the problem, they even have a residential rehabilitation program. They offer a class for offenders, which is part of a 12-week program in which certified substance abuse counselors meet with offenders from 9-noon on Saturdays at the Juvenile Detention Center.
Juvenile probation also offers recommendations to private counselors. James said that parents can have drug tests done on their children through private doctors if they suspect a problem.
"I have pleurisy," said Don, a senior. "I used to do drugs every day. Pot, crank, heroine, LSD, 'shrooms."
Pleurisy (pleural effusion) is a condition in which excess fluid builds up in the pleural cavity, or the space between the membrane around the lungs and the membrane covering the ribcage, according to the Carson Tahoe Hospital Medical Library. Depending on the consistency of the fluid, the condition can be very painful.
Don said that his condition is mostly due to crank, but "everything I've done has taken a toll on my lungs and my life. I went on a three-month binge with crank. I ran away from my house. I was gone for three months. I went to sleep in Juvie (juvenile detention) and woke up three days later. I didn't know where I was or who my parents were." He quit doing drugs because of his parents, and because he was on probation.
Deputy Chief of Police Scott Burau stated that in 1998 there were 33 children between the ages of 10 and 17 arrested on narcotics charges. In 1999 there were 26 narcotics arrests. Burau said that the primary function of the sheriff's department is to enforce the law.
He said that offenders who come to their attention are arrested and then propelled into the justice system where judges, probation officers, counselors or other officials decide where to go from there. The Juvenile Probation Department handles the offenders after the fact.
All the students who do, or at one time did drugs, had one thing in common. They all said that getting drugs in Carson City is not difficult.
"I just called people on the phone" said Shannon.
"This is a 'tweaker town,'" stated Michael, "It's full of crank. It's easier to get crank than to get weed."
Don said, "all you have to do is ask and show money." Pot is $60 for 1/4 ounce, crank is $100 for one gram, $25 for a "teener." "That's like three rocks," said Don. "Ask around. You'll get a name. Find the person and ask them. They'll either give it to you there or get someone else to. You can buy runners to give or get the drugs for you."
"I know more people who don't do drugs than people who do," said Christine, a senior. "I know people who do drugs, but I don't think they're bad people, they just make bad decisions."
Cat, also a senior, said she knows several people who do drugs, but most of her friends and the students she knows have never even tried them. "I smoke, but I don't do drugs," she said. "I've heard people make plans to get drugs, and make plans to do them. I've seen people smoke weed out at Smokers (Corner). A friend of mine offered me a hit, but he didn't pressure me when I said no."
Cat said she doesn't understand why people think they need to do drugs to fit in. "Most people I know who do drugs have a lot of respect for the people who don't, and they don't try to get people started. I won't even give a cigarette to people who don't smoke. I would hate to get someone else started on that," she said. "I just never wanted to try drugs," said Christine.
Adair said that the faculty of Carson High is trying to arrange a conference for March or April to be attended by students, parents, staff and world-class "facilitators" - paid professionals who are called in to organize the meeting - to address school safety, drugs and alcohol.
"This is probably one of the largest undertakings of it's kind, not only in this state, but probably in America," Adair stated.
If you, your child, or someone you know needs help or counseling regarding drug or alcohol abuse, you can call one of the following:
The Life Stress Center in Carson Tahoe Hospital: 885-4460
Crisis Line: 885-8866 or 1(800) 283-7671
Ron Woods Family Resource Center: 884-2269
Community Counseling Center: 882-3945
Crisis Call Center (Reno): 784-8085
Carson Mental Health: 687-4195
Carson Professional Group: 887-1313 (The Carson Professional Group provides four certified alcohol and drug abuse counselors, three of whom speak Spanish.)
Juvenile Probation: 887-2033