May 5, 2005

Four eighth-grade students at a Paradise Valley Unified School District school were hospitalized after ingesting a generic form of the muscle relaxant Soma.

Two male and two female students at Shea Middle School, 2728 E. Shea Blvd., Phoenix, became ill Tuesday after taking the pills, said district spokeswoman Judi Willis. Since the incident occurred around lunchtime, school officials believe the drugs were taken on campus, she said.

Another girl is believed to have taken the pills, but her mother chose not to send her to the hospital, said Phoenix police Lt. Emilien Sapon.

School officials were notified of the drug use by an anonymous source who used the school’s "silent witness" program, Willis said.

The students took between three and four 350-milligram pills each, Sapon said.

Paramedics arrived and induced vomiting, then transported four of them to Paradise Valley Hospital.

Sapon said the incident is still under investigation, and that authorities believe a local high school student might have sold the pills to a student at Shea, who had then started to sell them.

"It appears to be an amateur-type of thing at this point," Sapon said. "They can’t be bringing these on campus. Just because it is a prescription drug doesn’t make it less dangerous."

Soma, generically known as carisoprodol, has alcohollike effects when taken in multiple doses. Abuse of the drug can result in seizures, coma or death.

Experts say abuse of prescription drugs such as Soma among teenagers is on the rise.

Last spring, Mesa and Gilbert police broke up a Soma ring involving five East Valley high schools, and Gilbert’s Highland High School suspended 29 students for bringing Soma onto campus.

Last summer, a Gilbert teen was convicted of transporting more than 2,000 Soma pills across the Mexico border with intent to sell them.

The Paradise Valley school district sent a letter home with students Tuesday and scheduled a parent meeting to discuss the incident at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the media center of the Shea Middle School.

The district has one of the most robust drug prevention programs in the Valley, and last month began giving free drug testing kits to parents of two middle schools.

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