A Mind is a Terrible Thing To Waste

In part two of our three-part series on youth, alcohol and drugs, the Whitefish Free Press interviewed parents and professionals working to shift the social paradigm.
“I would not want to be a teenager or parent right now, those are two of the scariest things I can think of,” said Flathead County Det. Travis Bruyer, coordinator for the Alcohol Task Enforcement Team, “It’s tough for a young person with the pressures they have today. You add awkward stages, bullying, alcohol and drugs and anything can happen.”
An eighth-grade student was arrested for possession of marijuana at Whitefish Middle School on March 12.
Two days later, six out of eight restaurants failed a compliance check by the Alcohol Enforcement Team when they were caught serving alcohol to minors.
Are these two events symptoms of the easy-access buffet of alcohol and drugs available to all Flathead Valley youth?
Kathy Wright spent 21 years as a youth court probation officer, five years as an adult probation and parole officer and seven years as a provider of drug and alcohol education. She’s also the mother of a teenage boy.
Wright thinks Whitefish and the entire Flathead Valley need to pull their heads out of the sand and wake up to the ongoing problem with youth and illegal substances. She’s seen a child as young as seven sharing a marijuana joint with his mother.
“Each generation is more into pleasure-seeking,” Wright said. “The message for kids is, if you have to deal with pain, disappointment, bullying, or life turns on you and you have a bad day, smoke a joint. If you’re going to celebrate, get stoned. Rather than dealing with life on life’s terms, take a drug.”
Wright believes parents need to take an aggressive, pro-active role in their children’s lives when it comes to drugs and alcohol.
“I’ve seen a lot of parents trying to dress, talk and be cool like a young person,” Wright said. “Too many parents have low self esteem and need their kid’s approval. That’s a mistake. Kids are looking for boundaries. They feel safer when you set them.”
The boundaries at Whitefish High School are under review according to school board member Eric Hosek.
At 7 p.m. on March 25, the board will hold a workshop at the district office to evaluate district policy and procedures related to students and illegal substances. One item they’ll discuss is random drug testing, he said. The public is invited.
After 17 years at Whitefish Middle School, Principal Kerry Drown said access to drugs is too easy.
“I can remember some prescription medication being abused, and we have found hard liquor at the school, but it’s mostly been issues with marijuana,” Drown said. “I’ve heard the kids can get the marijuana easier than alcohol, and it comes in a small package. It is very accessible to our youth, but I wouldn’t classify it as an epidemic. We bring in a drug dog regularly with the message not to bring it to school. The message is pro-active. We’re serious. Law enforcement was called last week about the marijuana incident. It is under investigation.”
While principal Drown is confident in the school’s ability to handle the problem, several parents and law enforcement professionals interviewed by the Whitefish Free Press are very concerned about what they see as a growing problem.
“Every single weekend we break up an underage party,” Detective Bruyer said. “We’ve had 25 youth alcohol poisonings since the task force was created in 2005. During the week we could arrest more, if we only had the funding for more patrols.”
Michael Fetters almost lost his daughter to alcohol poisoning in the summer of 2006. At his request, her name will not be disclosed. For purposes of this article, she’ll be called Sally.
Sally and two of her girlfriends were offered alcohol by a pizza deliveryman they knew who was 31. They were 15.
The male purchased Southern Comfort whisky and took the three girls to a home in Kalispell. Two of girls drank, got into a car and drove it into a ditch on Highway 35.
Both girls were taken from the accident site to KRMC for treatment of alcohol poisoning.
The highway patrol officer charged the driver with DUI and the passenger with possession of alcohol.
Flathead County Sgt. Lance Norman headed back to the house where the three teenage girls and one adult male had partied.
When Norman arrived, Sally was lying unconscious on the floor. The telephone cord was wrapped around her neck. She was not breathing and was unconscious. She was taken to the hospital and remained in a coma for several hours.
Sally’s blood alcohol level was greater than three times the legal limit at .28 percent.
After she recovered, Sally went to live with her father in Oregon.
“I want to warn parents to watch their teenage girls,” Fetters said. “There are pedophiles out there who will use alcohol or drugs as a tool to get what they want. Sheriff Norman gave 100 percent to revive my daughter. He wouldn’t give up. I told him he was the hero of my heart. It was a miracle she’s alive. She’s in Oregon now. We wanted to get her out of Montana and away from those people she hung out with.”
Fetters said he is seeking legal counsel to help him investigate what can be done to prosecute the responsible adult who provided the alcohol to his daughter and two other minors, but at this time, Montana does not have a social host law, where the individual who provides alcohol to minors at a private residence can be held legally responsible.
Ron Clem is another father who nearly lost his teenage daughter.
Carren was 15 when she left Whitefish High School with a drug dealer on her lunch hour. The dealer drugged her and raped her in 1998.
“The following morning my head and body hurt all over,” Carren wrote. “I had blood in my underwear and had bruises on my neck, breast and thighs. Had I been raped or did I agree to have sex, how did it happen? Oh God, please forgive me, I didn’t mean to do this. Please forgive me. I prayed and prayed but still felt like life – my life – had been taken from me. I was alive yet felt dead inside. I was ashamed and didn’t know how to tell anyone.”
Carren kept the rape a secret, but did tell her parents she didn’t want to go to Whitefish High School.
Her addiction to methamphetamine grew. She resorted to prostitution to feed her habit.
The family’s story is told in a book Carren co-authored with her father entitled, “Loss of Innocence.”
“My daughter was raped because she walked away on a lunch hour with a drug dealer,” Clem said. “I don’t think freshmen, sophomores and junior kids should leave campus in an uncontrolled environment. It’s a huge risk. If we aren’t willing to invest in our children, what kind of future do we have?”
Today father and daughter travel the nation telling their story, hoping to help youth and their parents fight back against drugs. Clem has also created “Teens In Crisis”, a free weekly counseling group that meets at Trinity Lutheran Church in Kalispell.
Last Thursday, it was a small group that gathered around Clem at the “Teens In Crisis” meeting, a teenage former addict, a board member and three moms all struggling to understand their personal dramas involving drugs, alcohol and sex.
Bonnie, who elected not to disclose her last name, dabbed at her eyes with a Kleenex as the tears flowed. Her oldest daughter became a methamphetamine addict. Bonnie sent her to a recovery home in Thompson Falls. Just as the first daughter came out clean, her middle daughter brought more issues.
While rifling through her young daughter’s wallet, she discovered an appointment card for an abortion doctor in the Flathead Valley.
When confronted, the girl confessed, admitting her boyfriend’s rich parents paid for the abortion. No one thought to let Bonnie know she almost became a grandmother.
“I wished I had caught him in the act and shot him,” Bonnie said. “Most people don’t know you can legally get an abortion in Montana at age 14 without parental consent. Parents, you need to know who your children are with, where they’re going and what they’re doing.”
Cary Plawman’s 16-year-old grandson Rocky died from a drug overdose at a “pharming” party in the Valley last November. A pharming party involves a large bowl where everyone in attendance contributes pills, whatever they could find. Partygoers then reach in the bowl, grab a handful of pills and swallow them down with alcohol.
“We heard the sirens and my granddaughter started screaming, ‘It’s Rocky.” Plawman said. “I took her inside and tried to calm her down. His dad was there trying to revive him. It was insane. Rocky went to a church retreat the weekend before, he went to school and worked at Taco Johns … I didn’t catch it. We keep our kids so busy, we don’t have time to see what’s really happening. My son told me he could get meth on any street corner in Whitefish. Parents need to look at what they’re doing, really look at it. We need to unite together as parents and grandparents.”
Plawman and Bruyer both want to create a social host law.
On April 2, Bruyer will hold a meeting inviting the public, the press and politicians to hear the reasons a social host law should be added.
The organization of Mothers Against Drunk Driving defines a social host law as, “Social host liability: statute or case law that imposes potential liability on social hosts as a result of their serving alcohol to obviously intoxicated persons or minors who subsequently are involved in crashes causing death or injury to third-parties.”
Wright and Clem agree that parents need to be on alert and suspicious of their child’s friends, the parents of those friends, and to always know where your children are.
Wright thinks parents should check their children’s backpacks, I Pod text messages, and computer history.
“Most parents were not suspicious enough,” Wright said. “What’s sad is the non-users are in the minority. You have to be a really strong kid not to be influenced.”
Clem suggests parents set clear limits with clear consequences. He knows of one parent who took the door off a teenage girl’s bedroom and held it as ransom until the teenager cleaned up her act.
“The most successful tool I’ve found is a life contract,” Clem said. “Let children know in detail what you expect from them and let them know what they can expect from you. It’s pre-active rather than reactive and takes the drama out. Driver’s licenses are privileges, before you grant them make your children achieve something first. Base their acquisition of funds on efforts and hard work.”
Clem said another tool parents can use is a requirement that their children notify them 24 hours in advance of any activity. Spontaneous decisions are when they get in the most trouble, he said.
A former law enforcement officer himself, Clem said not only parents and schools, but the state also needs to maintain its vigilance.
In 2002, the combined counties of Lake, Mineral, Lincoln and Flathead were considered a high-intensity drug use area.
Federal funding was received through the Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Grant to help create and man the drug and alcohol task forces.
Geno Cook is the commander of the Northwest Drug Task Force which was formed with a portion of the grant money.
“Three to four years ago, meth use was on the decline here, but within the last three to six months we’ve seen a resurgence of meth,” Cook said. “Due to the affects on society from use of this drug, it is still our number one priority. There’s also been a rise in cocaine use.”
Last year the state received $2.15 million from the grant. However, effective this July, the funds will be reduced by 67 percent to $788,000 following a congressional budget cut.
On March 3, Attorney General McGrath joined with all other state attorneys to sign a request asking Congress to reconsider.
McGrath said he could not be able to continue operating all seven of the state’s drug task forces on the reduced budget.
No decision has been made yet determining which regions would lose personnel.
“We were shocked when Congress voted in January to cut it,” Cook said. “To have it suddenly slashed is a real concern. If there is anything the public can do, it is to contact their representatives.”
Cook said even if the budget is severed and his task force reduced, they would continue their undercover work fighting drug suppliers.
How prevalent are drug dealers and addicts in the Flathead Valley?
Flora Sladek sells cell phones at Cellular World in Whitefish. Sladek said since returning home to Montana after working for several decades in California, she was shocked at the changes.
“I’ve interviewed as many drug addicts per capita here as I have when I worked for a credit union in the ghetto of East Los Angeles, and I’ve interviewed more than 100,000 people in my career,” Sladek said. “I’m disappointed and shocked at what happened has happened to Whitefish over the last 30 years. So many people live here and don’t have a clue.”
Parents and youth who are seeking counseling, support and advice can call Teens In Crisis 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 406-471-6599.
Next week the Whitefish Free Press will investigate alcohol, drugs and youth through the eyes of local teenagers.

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