A year ago this week Montgomery County was rocked by the loss of three Magruder High School students killed in a drunk driving accident. Now, activists say, it’s time for the community to wake up.
The Montgomery County Council of PTAs hosted a community action forum Wednesday, gathering police, community leaders, parents, teachers and students to discuss a growing substance and alcohol abuse problem in Montgomery County.
“We are far too overrepresentive of drug and alcohol related tragedies. The number one cause of death continues to be alcohol related crashes and teen driving crashes,” said Captain Thomas Didone, director of the Montgomery County Police Traffic Division. “The summary of what’s going on with underage drinking – we’ve returned back to the epidemic proportions of 1993.”
According to Didone, in 1993 MCPD began its efforts to curb teen drinking when three teens were killed in a car accident along River Road. Eighteen years later a similar tragedy mirrored the loss, when three Magruder students were killed in a drunk driving incident.
“Police are not going to arrest their way to a solution, the schools are not going to suspend their way to a solution, elected officials are not going to legislate their way to a solution,” said Montgomery County School Board Member Mike Durso. “It really is only when all of us get together…. When we all own this problem.”
As the panelists of school resource officers, school principals and those with personal knowledge of substance abuse tragedy shared their stories, each urged parents to take charge and to not be afraid of challenging students and children to keep them safe.
Greg Lannes lost his daughter Alicia to heroine abuse when she was 19 years old, in part of what federal authorities discovered was a heroine ring ravaging the young population of Fairfax County, Va.
“All teenagers, all young people go through different battles, whether it’s depression or a bad week at school. The perception of a young mind goes through difficult times,” Lannes said. “It’s a perfect storm out there for tragedies to happen.”
Lannes came with two other representatives of a program that grew out of the Fairfax investigations called PROTECT – Parents Reaching Out to Educate Communities Together.
“Trust your instincts. God gave you instincts to be a parent,” Greg Richter of Fairfax County told the audience. Richter told his story as a parent of a 24-year-old heroin addict, who was caught up in the Fairfax federal drug investigation and survived multiple rounds of therapy and recovery.
After hitting rock-bottom, Richter said his daughter is still alive and she’s accepted responsibility for her actions. “If you think something’s going on, chances are they are," he said. “If you feel that your child is dabbling with doing drugs, don’t feel you’re a failure if they’re doing it, you’re only a failure if you don’t act on it.”
According to Didone and other panelists, parents are modeling behaviors for children and contributing to the drinking problem by hosting underaged drinking parties and by ignoring the signs of abuse they later admit to seeing after an accident has taken place.
“You hear about parents modeling behavior. I know it’s the case in driving. Why are these kids driving the way they do? Because they see their parents doing it – cussing, yelling, talking on the cell phone, and that’s what’s happening with alcohol,” Didone said. “We are growing alcoholics at an early age.”
Students, parents and activists stood up after the presentation ended to ask questions and voice opinions. The meeting, scheduled for two hours, didn’t wrap up for almost three.
Brady Noble, 15, a student at Wootton High School echoed many of the thoughts that had passed through the panel about why kids drink and what the consequences are.
“[Students] feel that it makes them popular. Some kids feel like they’re invincible,” he said. “They say ‘It can’t happen to me,’ but people don’t understand that it actually can happen.”
What do you think the solution is? How can Montgomery County best combat teen drinking and substance abuse?