BANGOR, Maine — Monday night’s 20-minute presentation and update on Bangor’s bath salts scourge was both alarming and reassuring to members of the school committee.
While Bangor Police Chief Ron Gastia and Lt. Tom Regan credited the Bangor school system’s existing drug policy for being adequate and effective, they cautioned committee members that the problem would get worse.
“There is no drug out there that hasn’t eventually migrated down to our youth,” said Gastia. “The median age of bath salts users is 35, but we’re starting to see the ages of users migrate down to people in their 20s, so absolutely it will affect our youth.”
Gastia and Regan said while there is no guaranteed way to prevent youth exposure to the mind-altering drugs, he advocated education and prevention.
“I think the best way to combat this problem is to be proactive rather than reactive, and we are advocating a three-pronged approach involving education, treatment and our judicial system,” Gastia said. “The goal is to keep it out of our high school.”
Regan and Gastia provided statistics and details about the rise of bath salts-related incidents in Bangor, which have gone from 30 in June to 50 in July to 73 in August and 80 already this month. They estimate Bangor police officers have responded to 300 to 400 incidents this year, averaging two to four per day.
“We have a chemical health policy that deals with any mind-altering substances and I updated our curriculum and policies, at the time working with Lt. Regan to review them,” said Bangor school superintendent Betsy Webb. “First offense is a three-day suspension and second is five to seven days while third is 10 days or expulsion. Trafficking would lead to expulsion.”
In addition to the penalties, Bangor’s zero-tolerance policy also has a support system in place.
“We have student assistance teams that work with the student, parents, guidance counselors, teachers, social workers and administrators trying to hold students accountable, but also support them in helping them get treatment and support to come back to school,” Webb said.
Webb said it isn’t so much changing the policies as it is increasing training of all school personnel to deal with bath salts, users and issues relating to them.
Regan reiterated a concern that young children might pick up and handle discarded bath salts baggies which have been found on sidewalks and other areas in the city.
“That’s another frightening thing about them is looking at the packaging with the designs or cartoon characters on them and handling them,” said Webb. “So we’ve had several workshops with all school staff: Teachers, techs, custodians, everyone. We started this back in June.”
School committee member Phyllis Guerette found Tuesday night’s presentation disturbingly educational.
“I think it’s just such a frightening epidemic. It’s worse than I thought,” she said. “I was pleased, though, that the chief is pleased with the systems we have in place to deal not just with this issue, but others as well.
“I don’t think anyone has a magic bullet to solve this problem. I think we’re all doing the best we can with a really challenging problem.”