I-TEAM: Advocates sound alarm over amount of drugs found in area schools

Advocates are sounding the alarm as the amount of drugs that are creeping into classrooms and causing problems at area schools continues to rise.
Published: Mar. 9, 2023 at 5:51 PM CST|Updated: Mar. 13, 2023 at 12:16 PM CDT
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EDITOR’S NOTE: The number for Livingston Parish Schools was mistakenly inverted in our report as 185 cases instead of the correct 158 incidents that were reported in 2022.

BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Advocates are sounding the alarm as the amount of drugs that are creeping into classrooms and causing problems at area schools continues to rise.

“Us as parents and grandparents, we need to take some kind of action,” said grandparent Joeann Wings.

The problem has some parents riled up and the WAFB ITEAM wanted to get a clearer picture of just how big of a problem school systems are facing with drugs in schools.

Looking at last year, there were 11 instances of drugs being brought into schools in the Central Community School System. In Ascension Parish Schools, there were 86 cases. During the same time frame, drugs were found in East Baton Rouge Schools 181 times and drugs were uncovered 158 times in Livingston Parish Schools.

“That many kids are involved in drugs and bringing them into school, that is surprising,” said parent Pamela Veal.

While those numbers shocked some parents, Dr. Jan Laughinghouse, executive director with Capital Area Human Services, says she is not surprised but the numbers are alarming.

“It’s not surprising at all,” said Dr. Laughinghouse. “But it’s very troubling. The issue is children having access to substances that actually dampen the executive function in the brain, dampen the prefrontal cortex which houses all the higher order thinking and the reasoning and impulse control. And when you’re dealing with developing brains, I mean brains that haven’t even fully organized yet until a person is about 25 years old, and you get substances that actually dampen that part, it’s a recipe for disaster.”

The counselor says it is not a new issue but the amount of drugs they’ve seen flooding into area schools has only gotten worse since the start of the pandemic. When it comes to how kids are getting their hands on drugs, the therapist tells WAFB it can be from a number of places— even parents’ medicine cabinets.

“Say for example somebody has had some dental work and they have pain killer still left in the house, well the child still has access to that. Medical marijuana has now become legal and things that people have around. Edibles is another big thing and we’ve been seeing them get into schools and the way that they’re packaged, children are confused. They can’t tell if these are real skittles or real gummy bears and they access things that only adults should have access to,” said Dr. Laughinghouse.

She says couple that access with the fact that kids are experimenting with drugs at a younger age and the chances of long-term struggles with substances increase.

“Research clearly shows that the earlier folks start using, it increases the likelihood that the person will develop a substance use disorder over a long term so absolutely it is a concern that children start using substances early,” said Dr. Laughinghouse.

The therapist says they have regular contact with students across seven parishes to provide education and treatment options but it’s getting harder for them to keep up. She blames part of that on technology. Laughinghouse tells WAFB kids are smart, and their phones are the perfect way for them talk about drugs out in the open— using creative strategies to hide in plain sight.

“There are lots of emojis that youth use and lots of hiding places that they have in backpacks and compartments and things of that nature,” said Dr. Laughinghouse. “They have just become very crafty when they get determined to do something so it is cause for alarm when you don’t know.”

While some parents might not be worried about their child, experts say they should never get too comfortable, and that education is the most valuable tool they can arm themselves with.

“Just the awareness that these things are happening, that youth are being exposed to them and that they do have access whether it’s through convenience stores, getting them from a relative or from a friend and so it’s important that parents know about these things,” Laughinghouse added.

Anyone who needs help with accessing resources or education can contact Capital Area Human Services by calling (225) 925-1906 or by visiting real helper.com.

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