By Nathan Mayberg
LIBERTY May 14, 2004 A senior at Liberty High School who stole drugs while working at Eckerd in Liberty and sold them at school has sparked a frenzy among the parents of the districts students, along with faculty and administration officials.
An additional five students who bought the drug hydrocodine were suspended for five days. Two of them were members of athletic teams and the honor society, said Superintendent Lawrence Clarke.
For more than two hours on Tuesday evening, parents and school officials met with Liberty Police Chief Michael DeFrank at the auditorium in Liberty High School to discuss, argue, chastise, and blame.
There appeared to be plenty of blame to go around. Several parents were irate that the school did nothing to notify them about the problem until the arrest. They said more could have been done if parents had been told about the ongoing investigation earlier. Clarke agreed with them.
Clarke started off the drama that evening by reading a list of drug arrests, police drug sweeps and drug suspensions which had happened through the course of the year.
He then gave a timeline of the most recent events. The senior who stole the drugs, Joshua England, gave up the names of several students he sold to. Those students were questioned by the police. The police assured them they would not be prosecuted if they told the truth.
Five admitted to their actions and were suspended, while the rest denied involvement. Some parents in the room said the students were misled into believing they would be absolved if they admitted to what they did. They said there was now a serious issue of trust between police, the administration, the students and the parents.
DeFrank said that hydrocodine was easily available due to its classification as a Schedule 3 drug. The drug is preferred, he said, over oxycotin, which is a Schedule 2 drug and highly regulated.
Hydrocodine has opiate-like effects. Side effects of its use include anxiety, decreased mental and physical performance, difficulty breathing, constipation, difficulty urinating, drowsiness, dry throat, emotional dependence, exaggerated sense of well-being, mood changes, nausea and vomiting, tightness in chest, overdose and possible death.
Clarke called the issue of drugs serious and a community problem. He said there was now a stress management team at the school. Workers from the Recovery Center were coming in to assist as well.
One resident, Michael Stoddard, said the stealing of drugs from Eckerd was not a new problem. He said he knew two graduates of Liberty who also stole from the pharmacy while working there. He wanted the store to be held accountable. Some called for a boycott of the store.
DeFrank said he knew of another case of workers at Eckerd stealing from their pharmacy.
Robert England, the father of the arrested student, said he would have never put his child in the store if he knew it would be a danger to him. He thought the store would be a clean place for him to work, as opposed to his prior job of washing dishes.
He said he had no idea that these controlled substances were not controlled. He also said he should have been notified earlier so something could have been done, adding I am not transferring blame.
Clarke replied that he was correct, but that it was like the Monday after the Saturday game question. . . . We are all guilty of living in this century.
Legislator Jodi Goodman echoed the sentiments of many by saying a letter should have come forward much earlier. She likened the matter to a recent letter sent out to residents about a child predator in the area.
She introduced John Nelson, a pediatric nurse, who said that teenagers of the last 20 years were hurting more than any other generation. Drug use was high, he said. Sullivan County has the highest suicide rate of any county outside New York City, he stated. He also said there was a big problem in the county with 12- and 13-year-olds getting pregnant.
Drugs are not the only issues, said Town of Liberty Councilman Maurice Gerry. Alcohol is a tremendous problem, he said.
We ignore it, the country ignores it, he explained in a heightened tone.
Others thought more students are involved, to which Clarke agreed, but said he could not prove it.
Sal Crescitelli, a nurse at Daytop Village which treats drug abusers, said that the drug abuse is leading to a large spike in HIV infections throughout the state. The nurse said that a lot of young people are going to clubs and taking drugs there, which cause them to make bad decisions.
Robert England said that the problem could have been caught earlier if school officials had taken notice of his sons repeated skipping of first period for a number of consecutive days.
Goodman added later that, as a community, we fell short. I fell short. I take it personally. She said that everybody in the school down to the eighth grade knew what was going on, long before the arrest.
She asked, If so many kids knew, why didnt these walls explode?
England said it was a result of a culture which teaches its young to mind their own business.
Another man said the problem with todays generation is a lack of fear.
My father put the fear of God into me, he said.
Area resident Jack Etter, agreeing with Supt. Clarke, said that the problem of drugs and alcohol is not specific to Liberty. It is a problem specific to students in general, no matter where you go.