16 high school students expelled for prescription drug offenses

Friday, May 24, 2002

MAHOMET, Ill. (AP) -- Sixteen high school students have been expelled after school officials, acting on a tip from a parent, broke up a prescription drug ring that sold Ritalin and painkillers.

The Mahomet-Seymour High School students were caught in the past two weeks with some combination of Ritalin, given to children with attention deficit disorder, and the addictive painkillers OxyContin and Hydrocodone.

Superintendent John Alumbaugh said students were selling their own medication, their parents' medication or drugs acquired from siblings.

"We had this going on right under our nose," Principal Del Ryan said. "We didn't know it was occurring. I tend to be a very visible principal."

Four weeks ago, Ryan got a call from a parent concerned his son had taken OxyContin from the parent's medicine cabinet to sell at school.

That parent and another gave Ryan a list of students they thought were involved. The following week, Ryan said he interviewed between 30 and 40 students and started charting the distribution network.

"I give the parents all of the credit for being concerned about the safety and well-being of the students," Ryan said. "They weren't concerned about what was going to happen to their sons. ... Had it not been for parents that Friday night, we would not have had any information about this."

Seven of the students were expelled for the rest of this year and all of next year. The rest were expelled for this year and will be put on disciplinary probation next year.

The Mahomet Police Department would not say whether any of the students had been charged and referred questions to the school. Ryan said Friday he did not know whether any of the students had been charged. The state's attorney office did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Ritalin is easy for students to obtain because it is often prescribed to calm young children with attention deficit disorder. As people get older, the drug acts as a stimulant.

OxyContin, a time-release version of Oxycodone, is widely prescribed for victims of moderate to severe chronic pain resulting from arthritis, back trouble or cancer. But those who abuse the drug crush it, then snort or inject it, producing a quick, heroin-like high.

Ryan and Alumbaugh both plan to launch new education efforts for parents as well as students. Ryan plans to meet with each class at the beginning of next school year to give them all the details of what happened and hopefully get them involved in solving the drug problem.

Morris Mosley, a youth counselor at Prairie Center for Substance Abuse, suggested the school have drug counselors easily accessible for students to talk to about their problems or those of a friend. He also said drugs should be a regular agenda item for school safety committees.

"It should be: What are we hearing in other schools and what are we doing about that here?" Mosley said. "If other schools have had a problem, kids have already heard about it."

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