A remote control police car whizzed across the table. John Warner, school resource officer for West Junior High School, played with the seemingly innocent toy, then held it up to the audience of concerned parents and teachers.
The toy car was really a pipe used for smoking marijuana.
Warner was demonstrating the ease with which adolescents can mask drug paraphernalia and allow parents to remain unsuspecting.
On Wednesday evening at Hickman High School, Warner, who is also a DARE mediator, and Mark Brotemarkle, Hickman’s school resource officer, held a drug awareness forum for parents of Columbia public school students.
The forum, in its fourth year, was organized by Bridges, a club involving Hickman, Rockbridge and Douglass high schools that holds drug- and violence-free activities for students. Bridges also offers these presentations a couple times a year to educate parents in the community.
Both officers and parents agreed that the reason children resort to drug use is usually because they “feel good” and as a way to escape reality.
“The home atmosphere of some of the students is not what they think it should be and they turn for an escape,” Brotemarkle said. “They are no longer learning how to cope with life’s experiences. The drugs slowly creep up on kids, and they have no one to tell them that life’s experiences are normal.”
A study conducted by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse found that 60 percent of high school students say drugs are used, kept and/or sold at their schools. They found that by the end of high school, 81 percent have consumed alcohol, 70 percent of these students have smoked cigarettes, 47 percent have used marijuana and 24 percent have tried another form of an illegal drug.
Resource officers reported statistics that crack cocaine and marijuana are the biggest problem drugs in Columbia. Boone County is the only county in Missouri that has not been known to have extensive methamphetamine labs, however.
Warner said drug use in high school is more about trying to fit in with a group of friends.
“Changing that peer group is the best way to solve the problem,” Warner said. “But it’s really hard for a teen to do.”
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, drug, alcohol and tobacco use costs schools an estimated total of $41 billion, which is an added 10 percent to the budgets schools have to use. And as many as 89 percent of principals thought of their school grounds as drug free, the study also showed.
Some parents asked why drug-sniffing dogs aren’t used in Columbia schools.
The officers said the school board has been against the idea, but parents could press the school board members to implement random drug searches in the future.