'It's a big problem': Schools leaders, student drug-prevention advocates concerned about rise in substance use, vaping – The Columbus Dispatch

Editor’s Note: WBNS 10TV recently examined the issue of drug use in school districts across central Ohio. ThisWeek Community News is partnering with the TV station to share some of its findings in this investigative report.
Central Ohio schools leaders and students involved in drug-prevention programs say teens are using drugs that can be stealthy and difficult to detect.
Over the past three months, WBNS 10TV has requested records and information from 18 school districts and law-enforcement agencies from across central Ohio regarding what kinds of drugs are being reported.
On 10TV.com:School leaders, student drug-prevention advocates concerned about rise in vaping
The records show, in nearly all cases, vaping has been reported. Some cases involve cartridges with THC, the main psychoactive compound in cannabis. In one case, a 16-year-old was carrying LSD.
Officials are trying new ways to curb this trend that’s occurring inside local schools.
10TV followed Franklin County Sheriff’s Office school resource deputy Dan Fahy for an afternoon on the job at Franklin Heights High School in Columbus.
Fahy knows most students on a first-name basis. He also knows what interests many students and the extracurricular activities in which they participate. He not only is a coach, as well, but also spends time volunteering with school activities outside the classroom.
Often, he is the first one to know when there’s a concern.
“Having that responsibility of being the trusted adult or one of any type of trusted adult for a kid, whether they’re blood or not, is a huge responsibility you can never take lightly,” Fahy said.
In his office, he has a drawer with a small test kit that’s used to detect THC in the vaping devices he finds. It takes only a few minutes to use.
Fahy said on average he uses one of these kits once a month. He said since he started working at Franklin Heights in 2017, he has noticed an increase in vaping.
Franklin Heights is part of the South-Western City School District. According to the district, in the first nine weeks of this school year, there were 111 incidents involving the possession, use, sale or distribution of tobacco – which includes vaping.
This is a trend 10TV has found in schools across central Ohio. 
Dublin Police Department records show three drug-related arrests in 2021 in Dublin City Schools. All three involved high school students and vape products. In one of those cases, it was reported that four teens were found vaping in a school bathroom. They were placed in a diversion program.
According to the Delaware County Sheriff’s Office, a student was caught in September vaping in a bathroom at Buckeye Valley High School. No criminal charges were filed.
In March at Olentangy Berlin High School, a Delaware County Sheriff’s Office report shows a student was caught vaping in the athletics wing of the school. The student was not charged and instead was suspended and directed to drug counseling.
In one case from 2020, according to a Columbus Division of Police report, a student at Whetstone High School was caught in a bathroom in possession of LSD.
Vaping and, in some cases, alcohol have been reported involving students younger than high school.
According to a New Albany Police Department report, police were called to investigate a drug complaint at New Albany Middle School in October. The report shows five vape pens had been found, along with four clear vials, “possibly containing THC oil.”
THC can be difficult to detect because it looks similar to the cartridges that carry CBD oil.
In Marion County, the sheriff’s office didn’t provide a breakdown of incidents by individual school but did reveal its school resource officers have noticed something else this school year – alcohol from a personal water bottle or beverage container. They’ve handled two cases like this, and both involved middle school students.
When it comes to vaping in Marion County school districts, according to the sheriff’s office, the vast majority of cases are handled through a school district’s disciplinary process. On occasion, a case will be submitted to the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office – Juvenile Division for review, and some of those cases subsequently will be referred to the court’s diversion officer.
“Most people have vapes. … It’s a big problem,” said Sarah Bazell, a senior at Canal Winchester High School.
Bazell is a member of her school’s local chapter of Drug Free Clubs of America.
“The benefits of this is that if any temptation to start using vapes or alcohol or drugs, being a member of this club will give you a reason to be like, ‘I can’t do that, like, no thank you,'” she said.
Bazell said she has had to use that reason more than once and in all different scenarios.
“I would be hanging out with friends or at a neighbor’s house or at a party with friends,” she said. “Finding the right way to say no is important. Because it can be very tempting.”
“Don’t think, ‘If it’s going to happen to me.’ Somebody is going to offer you a substance,” said deputy Laura Stahr of the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office.
Stahr has spent the past 16 years as a DARE deputy. The long-established drug-prevention program now starts in fifth grade at some schools.
“The biggest thing we’re giving them is the DARE decision-making model to help them go through the steps to making a safe and responsible decision,” Stahr said. “Because the general nature of kids, especially in fifth grade, is impulsive.”
Stahr and Fahy have more in common than the fact they work on drug-prevention efforts and represent the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office: They both are parents of children the same ages as the students they serve.
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After working nearly two decades in this capacity and as a parent, Stahr said, what concerns her most about teens and drug use is whether she has equipped her students and children with everything they need – meaning the tools they need to make responsible decisions.
“Sometimes even the parents that do everything right, sometimes it just happens to be their kid that falls through the cracks,” she said. “And that parent is going to beat themselves up second guessing themselves. ‘What did I miss? What didn’t I see?’ Sometimes even doing the best things – sometimes even it’s not enough.”
Both Stahr and Fahy offer honest advice for parents like them.
“Like every parent, you have to research what the kids are talking about,” Fahy said. “Listen whether they are talking to you or not, if they’re on the phone or texting or tweeting with friends, listen to what they are talking about and then do your own research.”
“Get over the fear of not being your kid’s friend,” Stahr said. “There is going to be a time later on when they are adults that you can be their friend. Now is when you need to help them navigate life. It is not easy.”


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