East Valley communities are seeing a tech-savvy young adults or teen “entrepreneurs” scoping out foreclosed homes, isolated locations or homes not under adult supervision to hold Friday and Saturday night parties where alcohol and drugs are available to young people, a Valley prevention agency says.
At the same time, some East Valley communities report they are seeing an increase in underage alcohol and drug use.
“In one situation, we were at a school doing a (prevention) presentation and while we were doing the presentation, the students were leaving and getting high,” said Joronda Montaño, director of prevention for Community Bridges, a substance abuse, treatment and prevention agency. “One said he was offered to buy marijuana three times on the way to the bathroom. He couldn’t have been gone more than seven to eight minutes. Three times by three different people.”
In light of the drug- and alcohol-use, ICAN and the Chandler Coalition on Youth Substance Abuse will sponsor a town hall on Saturday to get information into the hands of parents and families about alcohol use in Chandler. Later this month, Community Bridges will sponsor its own event to encourage families to talk about drug and alcohol use.
Some of the information about use comes from the Arizona Youth Survey, given to students in eighth, 10th and 12th grades. The survey asks students to self-report their exposure or use of substances, from alcohol to drugs to prescription medication.
Data for 2008, the most recent Maricopa County statistics available, shows a slight drop in alcohol use among all grade levels, but a slight increase in marijuana use among Maricopa County 12th-graders.
But the trend appears to be ticking back upward, prevention specialists say.
“Most students, even if they’re not engaged in it, they can tell you what’s going on,” said Montaño.
ICAN’s Ixtchell Ledesma said there has been an increase of underage use in Chandler, especially with alcohol.
“It happens on Friday and Saturday between 8 p.m. and later in the evening,” Ledesma said. ICAN is a program that targets at-risk students in Chandler.
Research shows youth are getting alcohol from several locations, Ledesma said — from adults, such as an older cousin, to parties.
“Mom and dad are out of town and kids are throwing a party or it’s a special occasion and the parents are allowing the kids to drink alcohol. Parents are saying, ‘As long as they’re in my house I know they’re OK,’” Ledesma said.
Montaño said kids are getting alcohol at parties, especially those organized by “party crews.”
“They put on parties. It can be as simple as text messages to say where it’s going to be, maybe in a residence or foreclosed property,” she said. The “party crews” may also set a rendezvous point and then teens caravan to a location.
At the parties, there is “a lot of alcohol and drugs available for a small entry fee to get in,” she said.
Notification of marijuana availability may also be in the code “4:20,” Montaño said, a code that actually was started in the 1970s in California when a group of young people set the time of 4:20 p.m. to get together and get high. They would say, “meet you at 4:20,” to keep their activities a secret, she said. The code caught on.
During presentations to parents, when Montaño or members of Community Bridges mention 4:20, “A light goes off for parents. They’ve seen it written on a child’s notebook or their daughter asked them to throw a party on that day,” she said.
Because of that, her group is hosting an event at Skateland in Mesa on April 20 to encourage family activities and a dialogue between parents and their students about drug and alcohol-use.
School districts also introduce prevention measures. Mesa Unified School District talks to students about making good choices, as well as drug and alcohol use, said Dr. David Shuff, director of student services.
When students are caught on campus under the influence or with drug paraphernalia, they are automatically suspended, Shuff said.
Students may be allowed back on campus — depending on an outside evaluation — if they participate in a “Taking Charge” program offered twice a week to educate the student and his or her parents. Parents and students must attend the program four consecutive times.
Community Bridges also comes into the schools or meets with parent groups on current drug trends, “So parents know what they need to be looking for or what kinds of conversations they should be having with their students,” Montaño said.