Colonel Gray High School’s resident police officer says a large number of students are abusing prescription pills and that’s only the tip of the problems he is seeing.
Const. Tim Keizer has been stationed at the Charlottetown school full time since the year began but is scheduled to depart Jan. 31 because the funding is running out.
Keizer says he’s making progress and he wants to stay but the city has said it can’t afford to pay the full bill for the rest of the year and the province, while it supports the program, says it can’t afford the $30,000 they’re being asked to pay.
Education Minister Alan McIsaac told The Guardian on Tuesday that it's difficult to come up with the money at this time of year, adding that the province has 63 schools to worry about.
“It’s bad, it’s bad,’’ Keizer told The Guardian Wednesday when asked how bad the drug use is at the school. “You’re going to be blown away when you get the actual percentage.’’
The number he talks about is the percentage of students using drugs. The Guardian was told it is 40 per cent of the student body that use drugs daily or have tried them this year. Keizer said students might say that figure should be higher.
“It is amazing. I was really taken back by the amount of drug activity that is (evident) at such an early age.’’
Keizer said over the years students have switched from alcohol to marijuana and hashish to the present favourite, prescription pills.
"Kids do not mind taking prescription pills to get high now," he said. "Now they have pill parties where everybody gets pills from mom and dad, or from old medications or something like that. They fire them in a bowl and everybody takes them, not having a clue what’s in them.’’
Pills aren’t the only problem at the Gray, said Keizer. Students have been coming to him complaining of “assaults of all natures’’.
He has also issued fines under the Liquor Control Act because adult-age students at the school are buying booze for minors.
Bullying is another problem he’s dealing with.
Keizer said he has also dealt with drug dealers right on the school property, as well as vandalism across the street at the seniors apartments and at Holy Redeemer Church.
“There’s a lot of kids self-medicating. There is no shortage of mental illness on P.E.I. and a lot of these kids are self medicating.’’
Darren O’Handley, program manager with the Provincial Addictions Treatment Facility, says Colonel Gray is not the only high school with a drug problem.
“The use of alcohol and other mood-altering drugs is not unique to any one school in Prince Edward Island,’’ said O’Handley, noting that Mental Health and Addictions Services provide support to youth and families impacted by substance use through a variety of services aimed at reducing the harms associated with substance use.
Keizer said problems begin before high school and a lot of it stems from the kinds of company students keep. Experimenting with drugs is starting as early as grades 7 and 8.
Keizer has set up what he calls ‘parent nights’ where he brings in a counselor from the addictions treatment facility to meet with parents and students.
“All we had was probably 30 parents that showed up. I don’t know what the issue was. We’re going to do it again in January. This is very real. There are countless kids coming down to my office that are talking about it, starting at 14 years old. Some of them started when they were 13 years old.’’
He says students experiment with drugs, find it’s fun and can’t cope when they get hooked.
The Guardian spoke with Kevin Whitrow, principal at the Gray on Tuesday, and he said there has been noticeable progress since Keizer started. Whitrow is hoping government can find the funding to keep Keizer at the school.
“He’s realistic about what’s going on and he’s trying to push things ahead,’’ Keizer said, referring to the principal. “I can’t even think about how many times I’ve been in the office with the principal and we’ve talked about somebody with drug issues and what they’re doing, bringing it to school and where they are no longer a part of the school because of it.’’
Keizer said having a police officer at the school makes it easier for the students to seek help. He has taken kids out of school immediately for medical attention.
“They’re coming down to my office where they would never come down to a police station . . . to talk to an officer about their drug use.’’
Keizer says the Gray needs to have an officer at the school. If not him, it needs to be someone.