Serena Eisele, a senior at Herndon High School, knows there are some students who have tried drugs, but she said she does not think it is a serious problem at her school.
"As an underclassmen, I was approached about doing drugs, and they respected what I said when I told them no. I'm a pretty strong-willed person anyway," Serena said. "Herndon is a pretty diverse school. There are lots of kids that seem to try it because they think they'll be popular, until they realize how stupid they look."
Serena — a member of Youth-to-Youth at Herndon, which provides activities and services for the school and community with an anti-drug focus — says that of the small number of students who do drugs at the school, marijuana and ecstasy are the top choices.
"We are next to one of the source cities [for drugs] in Washington, D.C., and we have large quantities coming into our area. We do get large shipments here," Det. Sean Monaghan, an eight-year member of the Organized Crime and Narcotics Division of the Fairfax County Police, told the county School Board during a work session last Monday. "Drugs come and go. The staple is marijuana. It doesn't go away. It now has a higher THC [tetrahydrocannabinol] content … . It's expensive to buy, and at first we didn't see widespread use, but now it's the drug of choice, and it's on our streets here in Fairfax County like anywhere else."
MARIJUANA is popular in the schools because there is no stigma attached to it like there is with heroin or crack cocaine, Monaghan said. The other drug of choice among students and young adults is ecstasy, and again one of the reasons is the perception of the drug.
"With pills there is no stigma. It's like taking an Advil," Monaghan said. "They don't see anything wrong with taking a pill."
Ecstasy has become so popular and is so often perceived as having no ill effects that the pills have become commonplace at raves, or under-18 dance clubs in Baltimore and Washington, D.C.; the sale of drugs is done in the open. The pills are scored with recognizable symbols such as Nike, Pokemon, Mercedes or other things that would appeal to the young.
"There were about 20,000 pills recovered last year," said Capt. Jack Hurlock, commander of the Organized Crime and Narcotics Division of the Fairfax County Police.
The drug gives users a sense of euphoria and can enhance the sense of pleasure and self-confidence as well as providing an energy boost.
On the other hand, it can also cause confusion, disorientation, anxiety, panic attacks, depression, insomnia and hallucinations. Even mild use can cause changes in the brain and can lead to long-term depression and other mental illnesses. And in some cases, it can cause death.
Marijuana can cause time, color and spatial-perception distortion as well as euphoria, excitement, laughter and an increased appetite. It also causes panic attacks and paranoia.
"I KNOW A LOT OF PEOPLE who say they do drugs, but the actuality is the majority don't do drugs or drink alcohol," said Romana Muzzammel, president of Youth-to-Youth at Herndon High School. "It's normal. Everyone seems to say they're doing drugs, but they're not."
Romana said that at Homecoming and prom time, Youth-to-Youth will do programs and put up decorations reminding students to stay away from drugs and alcohol.
One of the problems facing administrators is finding out which students are doing drugs and then convincing their parents there is a problem.
"We find kids drop a pill in a bag of Skittles in case they get stopped at school," Hurlock said. "At school, no resource officer is going to dump out a bag of Skittles."
Det. Bill Fulton knows firsthand what it is like in the county schools. Fulton started out as a resource officer in Fairfax County before transferring to the narcotics division.
"Many of the parents I dealt with when their kid was under suspicion of drugs would say, 'Not my kid.' Then if it becomes continuous, with the parents it becomes anger, 'You're picking on my kid.'"
According to the Communities That Care survey that was given to 12,000 county eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders last year and had a 40-percent return rate, 12 percent, or 1,377, 10th-graders; and 18 percent, or 1,874, 12th-graders have been drunk or high at school. Thirteen percent, or 1,353, 12th-graders; and 5 percent, or 574, 10th-graders have used hallucinogenic drugs, most likely ecstasy, at least once.
The police believe drugs in the schools is a big enough problem that they are trying to establish a narcotic unit devoted just to young offenders, said Fulton.