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Lone Peak parents rally on drug, suicide prevention

Published March 29, 2012 10:17 am

"We need to have a plan," says mother of teen who died of heroin overdose.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Highland • Mindy Vance-Okuno tried multiple strategies to help her son, Brandon, kick his drug habit, including contracts with rewards and a summer wilderness-therapy program. But this winter, the 11th-grader relapsed after months of being clean. On New Year's Eve, he took his life.

"At the end of the day, your kids are free to make their own choices. But this doesn't mean that we give up, that we stop hoping and trying everything," Vance-Okuno said Wednesday night to a room of more than 100 parents.

Lone Peak High School hosted the community forum in response to three student deaths recently where drugs were involved, including two suicides and one accidental overdose on heroin.

Many expressed a hope of preventing further deaths and problems with addiction, calling for greater awareness. The parents of all three teens shared their stories and pointed to warning signs.

"Our kids are sharing their ADD medication, your prescription medication, cough syrup tablets and stealing your cash," Vance-Okuno said. "I don't mean to be negative, but I think we need to monitor these things. I've talked to kids who don't run in these circles at all, and [they say it would take] them 10 minutes to get something that is hard."

Rod Campbell, a school counselor, offered four tips for parents. "Trust your gut," he said. Parents have a sense of when things are right and when they are not. He also suggested looking into a child's eyes, having regular conversations when engaged in a fun activity and asking a child to take a drug test if a parent suspects use. Alpine School District sells drug tests to parents at a low price, he noted.

More than 100 students at Lone Peak have spoken to a school counselor about the deaths, Alpine spokeswoman Rhonda Bromley said in an interview.

The school has text and email tip lines so that students can report concerns anonymously about drug use or peers at risk of suicide. A stream of tips came in the week after 17-year-old Jacob Randall, a senior, accidentally overdosed on heroin and died.

"We need to have a plan," Jolene Randall, Jacob's mother, said Wednesday. "My hope is that we have a plan that involves law enforcement, [school] administration, parents and most importantly students. We need to take back our school. We need to take back our community."

Lone Peak has been evaluating a number of new initiatives in response to the recent problems, Principal Chip Koop said. The school wants to form a new student group for substance-abuse prevention that would meet twice a month during the school day with an adult coordinator. The school also plans to place more information online and in pamphlets for parents regarding prevention of teen drug use and suicide.

"We have wonderful kids here at Lone Peak High School," Koop said. "Unfortunately, some of them don't always make the best choices."

Jodi Call, a parent, called for a monthly parents' meeting to discuss what's happening with drug abuse and prevention.

Lisa Meadors, a Highland mom who attended the meeting, said she was pleased the problem is being openly discussed. She has one son who has finished high school who used heroin when he was a student at Lone Peak. She said she was "heartbroken" to learn of Jacob Randall's overdose.

"That could have been my son," Meadors said. "These kids need to be standing up for each other and know they are helping their friends, not 'narc-ing' on them."

rwinters@sltrib.com