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Ecstasy second in local drug abuse trend

A blue line of push-pins follows Main Street through town, bulging near the center of town. The pins mark where police made 93 arrests between 1999 and 2002, all for drug-related offenses.

"I have seen them - drugs - in your town," presiding Woburn District Court Judge Marie Jackson told an audience of about three dozen people Tuesday night at the Senior Center.

"We have to be aware that drugs are there, and what kids are in to," said Jackson, speaking at the invitation of the Substance Abuse Prevention Advisory Committee. With Jackson on the panel were Assistant Middlesex District Attorney Rob Fisher and Police Lt. Detective Kevin Patterson.

Indeed, "There are drugs and drug problems in Reading," said Patterson. As recently as October, detectives investigated allegations of Oxycontin and marijuana being distributed and sold at Reading Memorial High School, he said. A former student and a current student were arrested and charged with drug-related offenses - both cases are pending.

There have been drug investigations all over town, not just at the high school, Patterson added The good news, according to Patterson, is that the number of local narcotics violations and arrests are down. But don't think the problem got smaller, he said. The number one drug problem, Patterson said, is still alcohol.

Other than alcohol, marijuana leads the local drug use trend, he said. Ecstasy is second, Patterson said, followed by Oxycontin and heroin.

"People who come from good families get addicted," he said. "Is it an epidemic? It's out there and everywhere."

The problem for Reading parents, according to Fisher, occurs when their high school-age students go to parties. Alcohol is typically available there, he said. There may also be Oxycontin. When someone becomes addicted to Oxycontin, and the habit becomes too expensive, they move to heroin, he said. Even the parents of junior high school students need to know this is hitting the streets, Fisher said.

Unlike a city like Lowell, nowhere in Reading can buyers drive to a "bad" section, Fisher said. Hence, parents are not sure where to keep their kids away from, he said.

Kids sell and use drugs in social settings, Jackson said. She said some of her information comes from high school students who shadow court officers in the summer. "They talk about the drugs they see," Jackson said. Some of the newer drugs "can quickly control you," she said.

Parents and other adults set an example at home, according to Jackson. "Sometimes we are drug dealers and don't realize it," she said. Think, she suggested, of a mother passing a pill prescribed for her, over the kitchen table, to a friend or relative.

Part of Tuesday's discussion centered on the penalties for selling drugs in a school zone: an automatic, minimum two-year jail sentence. Jackson, assisted by then-law student Victoria Griffin, developed the map of Reading and surrounding communities as part of a project to identify drug transactions in school zones, and how the cases were charged in court.

School zones include areas within 1,000 feet of a park and day care center as well as a school, Jackson pointed out. Given the town's neighborhood schools, it's not hard to find a home in a school zone, Patterson said. At one time, a female was selling drugs from her home on Lawrence Road, he said, to students on their way home from school..

During the question and answer part of the program, the panel and a member of the audience discussed the mandatory sentence issue. All three speakers said they exercise some discretion when they deal with a drug-in-a-school-zone case.

Jackson urged parents and other community members to learn about drugs, lead the push against drugs and to talk to, and get information from their children; and hold offenders 100 percent accountable for their actions..

"We need both enforcement and prevention," said Jane Fiore, a member of the Substance Abuse prevention Advisory Council and the town's Health Administrator. The point of the panel, Fiore told the audience, is "to give you something to chew on."

The speakers' message was no surprise to one mother of a high school student: Mary Higdon said drug use in Reading "is a great concern to me." Higdon said she moved to Reading eight years ago from Revere to get away from similar issues there.

Both Higdon and her daughter, Jaime Bowzer, offered a suggestion on how to prevent or lessen the amount of illegal drug use here: ask local youths why they use drugs, they said.

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