By Jason KUROSU
A panel of members of the La Cañada community held a Town Hall forum at La Cañada’s City Hall on Nov. 17 to discuss the current state of drugs in their neighborhoods, particularly amongst teens. La Cañada Flintridge’s Public Safety Commission in partnership with the Community Prevention Council sponsored the meeting, entitled “Hidden in Plain Sight,” which drew a crowd consisting mostly of parents.
The panel was made up of a variety of voices on the subject: L.A. County Sheriff Eric Matejka, La Cañada Unified School District Safety Officer Tanya Wilson, Pediatrician Dr. Leonard “Skip” Baker and two high school students, senior Claire Shuman of La Cañada High and senior Paul Dragna of Flintridge Preparatory School.
Moderator Will Moffitt of the Public Safety Commission commenced the meeting with some statistics concerning drug use.
Moffitt said, “Teens are 42% less likely to use drugs if parents talk with them about it.” Moffitt was highlighting one of the main points of the forum: establishing communication between parents and their children.
Afterward, the panel started their presentations with Deputy Matejka and Officer Wilson informing the audience of what drugs they find most regularly within the community. Matejka reported that alcohol, marijuana and ecstasy were the most common drugs that he encountered. Wilson concurred with Matejka, but also said that while working at La Cañada High, she had seen “everything from marijuana to heroin and everything in between.”
Matejka and Wilson then passed around some of the drug paraphernalia that had either been donated or confiscated. Most of the objects passed around were smoking implements disguised as other, innocuous objects (pipes hidden and built within highlighters, soda cans, etc.), but they also passed around other objects prevalent in drug culture such as rave candy, small bracelets exchanged between ravers.
Matejka and Wilson also noted the prevalence of teens misusing legal prescription drugs, or “Ivy League drugs,” named so for their common use amongst students to increase attention spans in order to study longer.
Matejka recommended that those in attendance utilize the drop boxes outside of the sheriff’s station, which can be used to dispose of drugs and, in this case, unused or expired medication that could be taken and misused.
To this point, Moffitt said, “Any realtor will tell you, if you’re having an open house, watch the medicine cabinet.”
The two student representatives spoke next, relating their experiences and giving the audience an opportunity to see just how much or how little drugs played a role in the lives of La Cañada teens.
“In order to help fix the problem,” Paul Dragna said, “an open dialogue between the parents and kids is very important.
Claire Shuman advocated similar openness between parents and children.
“Something that my mother has always said to me is, ‘I want you to be happy, I want you to be healthy, I want you to be successful and I want you to be the greatest Claire that you can be,” Shuman said. “She’s constantly said that to me and I know it’s true when we can have conversations where she can tell me about the reality of the situation because when a parent hides it from their child and doesn’t have that open dialogue is when I really think things become dangerous. That’s when the curiosity kicks in.”
Dr. Baker then made his presentation, a slideshow highlighting various drugs and their effects on the body, primarily the brain. Baker covered how drugs artificially supply users with dopamine and also delved into reasons why some people become drugs users and addicts.
He touched upon predisposition, genetic or otherwise, for using drugs, but also the effects of stress, which drugs are often used to relieve and a prevalence of drug use amongst those suffering from ADHD (drugs supply the dopamine which the disorder deprives them of).
Baker also advocated open lines of communication, beginning his presentation by saying, “‘Just say no’ doesn’t work and it never will.”
Baker felt that “decreased use is directly related to perception of risk. That is why parental involvement is so important.”
After a question and answer segment, Moffitt posed a question to the two student representatives, “What can we [adults] do better to help?”
Shuman emphasized the topic of stress.
“When we’re so stressed for such a long period of time, we look for somewhere to relieve that stress very quickly. If our stress level is high, our fun level has to be just that high in order to feel a balance.
“Finding a way to relieve the stress of the school week would really help kids to feel that they don’t have to go crazy on the weekends because their week was so insane for them.”
Dragna agreed with Shuman and also advocated raising awareness.
“We talked about how nicotine levels have dropped and that’s because it’s so clear to almost every kid in this town that smoking is really bad for you, whereas with marijuana, it’s not as clear. Increasing awareness would curb some of the usage.”
Moffitt concluded the evening by agreeing with the students’ conclusions.
“If we can get strong families to talk with each other, we can solve a lot of these problems.”
Moffitt also suggested that future town hall forums of this sort would be a benefit to the community.
“If we can continue having a rational, honest discussion like this, it can only help.”