Special Report: Xanax Abuse on the Rise Among Valley Teens
MCALLEN – Students across the Rio Grande Valley are turning to Xanax as a drug of choice.
Data shows it's a problem since its use can be hard to detect. Behavioral Solutions of South Texas data shows what happens from grades 7 through 12.
The chances of a child’s involvement in trying Xanax or drugs like it goes up with age.
Last year, about 160 incidents of students with Xanax was reported in Region 1.
A Valley teen warns this is just a fraction of what is actually happening on campuses.
What you do in high school can determine your identity. Derick, an enthusiastic football player, was happy to be known as "the athlete."
One day, he broke his collarbone. But that didn't stop him. He took prescribed morphine until it ran out. That's when he realized he got used to the effects, so he turned to Xanax.
"Once I healed it, I still kept taking them," he tells CHANNEL 5 NEWS
He didn't stop, not in the classroom, not in the hallways, not even during football practice.
Derick says getting it is as easy as buying candy. He says he got the drug at a local park where he used to go to school.
“There was always people there. Even in school, they would sell them. In school, it was pretty big,” he says.
Last school year, out of the 37 school districts in Region 1, more than half reported incidents involving Xanax use, distribution or possession.
Districts in the double digits include: Brownsville ISD and Weslaco ISD with10 incidents each; McAllen ISD had 16; Edinburg CISD reported 21 and United ISD in Laredo had 25. Edcouch-Elsa ISD had the most with 39 reported incidents.
Edinburg CISD officials say there's a lot of ground to cover.
"We have 34,500 students, 4,700 staff. We cover 945 square miles," says Edinburg CISD Police Chief Ricardo Perez.
He says students come up with creative ways to evade detection. He says they re-purpose everyday school supplies into containers carrying spice, marijuana or Xanax.
Perez says even though it may escape people, canines will eventually pick up the scent.
Officers handling drug-detecting dogs wait for the signal – the dog will sit when it detects a narcotic. Perez says it's the beginning of a process that could mean jail time for the student.
"The more the weight or the more narcotics they have, the higher the charges,” he explains.
But that didn't matter to Derick, who later began selling Xanax bars to fellow students. He says the drugs cost "four to three for $10 or $20 for about eight."
The teen says it may not have cost him a trip to jail like it did others, but it did take a toll.
"The way it affected my body, the way it affected my ego in school,” he recalls. “People just saw me differently. People saw me as a drug addict, not an athlete."
Finally, his parents caught him using at home. Derick says he knew it was time for a change.
He tells CHANNEL 5 NEWS he switched schools and agreed to go to the Palmer Drug Abuse Program.
"If you come with a group of kids that is making every effort to change their ways, it will help that person realize, 'Hey if they can do it, I can do it,” says the program’s operations supervisor, Joel Morales.
Morales says the youngest person he counseled for Xanax abuse was 13 years old. Drug use among teens, he explains, is especially dangerous because of potency.
"They can get a pill that does not have potentially as much as it should have, and they'll feel comfortable. And, 'Oh, I did one and it didn't do anything, so maybe I can get two,'” he says. “But then they get two that really have the doses that needed to be there, and it really becomes a problem."
Counterfeit drugs have also hit the U.S. market. The DEA reports nine people died in Florida from Xanax pills laced with Fentanyl in 2016.
Derick says he started changing his life more than a year ago. He realizes he's no longer happy just being the athlete. He says he wants to join the military.
“Now that I'm 18 and old enough to know, that's the future I want," he says.
He says with a clear head and clean system, he's learned he's capable of defining himself and his future.
Derick tells us he was often under the influence at school and at home. Abuse of Xanax or similar Benzodiazepines has subtle signs.
In case of overdose, the following are symptoms you need to watch out for: shallow respiration, clammy skin, dilated pupils, weak and rapid pulse, coma or even death.
When it comes to treatment, there are options like the Palmer Drug Abuse Center that offer services free of charge.
The complete list of the Xanax incidents is as follows: