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GICSD: Graham offers guidance on youth substance abuse

Sat, Apr 20th 2024 07:00 am

By Michael Billoni

Senior Contributing Writer

The legacy of Dr. Brian Graham, Ed.D., now in his eighth school year as Grand Island’s superintendent of schools, could easily be that of “The Great Communicator,” as he truly believes communication is key to educating students and parents about issues in society today.

You can see on the pages on the Island Dispatch and in the district’s newsletter, which is mailed to every home on the Island, the superintendent does a good job of communicating what’s going on inside the school buildings to the public on a regular basis. Internally, he will walk the halls listening and communicating with students, staff and faculty, and he does the same in regular meetings he conducts. When the Grand Island School Board unanimously voted to hire him in 2016, his initial objectives were to “listen to people” and create a championship school district.

Last fall, when he learned three of Grand Island High School’s adult employees became suddenly ill when investigating a student’s backpack, he took his communication skills to a new level. Inside the backpack they discovered the following items:

√ 1 marijuana grinder device with marijuana residue/particulate

√ 2 marijuana glass pipes

√ 1 container labeled Diamond Infused Keif Joint Gas Face with a label that lists 195.5 mg of cannabis

√ 1 empty cannabis edible package labeled Crooked Kitchen 600 mg

√ 1 glass plate labeled Green Crack with what appeared to be marijuana residue/particulates

“The items in the bag contained cannabis residue or particulate and, after examination, were to be laced with amphetamines,” Graham explained. “After that serious incident, it became obvious to me our school children are purchasing cannabis items from black market vendors, and these items are often laced with other entities that will quickly increase their addiction to drugs.”

Rather than just deal with the issue on Grand Island, Graham used his position as vice president of the Erie-Niagara School Superintendents Association to collaborate with his colleagues. They organized a press conference last Oct. 13 on the Kids Escaping Drugs campus in West Seneca to communicate, educate and discuss with the entire community a teenager’s easy access to cannabis and THC.

During the event, leaders from several organizations presented information on current trends and issues related to substance abuse, including the dangers of new drug derivatives. They also provided strategies, resources and programs available to students who are struggling with addiction. 

“During that press conference, representatives from our association’s member schools communicated with us that students are at greater risk for substance abuse and addiction as gaining access to vaping and cannabis increases exponentially,” Graham said. “The biggest problem E-NSSA members are seeing is vaping and cannabis products are being laced with THC, amphetamines, bath salts, and opioids.”

Attending that press conference with Graham were the Erie-Niagara School Superintendents Association President Michael Cornell, superintendent, Hamburg Central School District; Mark Laurrie, superintendent, Niagara Falls City School District; Jodie Altman, executive director, Kids Escaping Drugs; Jessica Hutchings, social worker in the Grand Island Central School District and a former face2face interventionist at Kids Escaping Drugs; Chief Dan Granville, Erie County Sheriff's Narcotics Unit; Shacarah Henry, clinical supervisor, Horizon Health Services; New York State Sen. Sean Ryan; and New York State Assemblyman Angelo Morinello.

Soon after, Graham invited members of the Western New York community to a forum in his high school auditorium to communicate these findings. The presenters were Graham; Hutchings; Altman; Amanda Schrader, counselor, Horizon Health Services; and Dr. Joshua Lynch, a leader and expert in the areas of emergency medicine and treatment of opioid use disorder.

When they facilitate community forums about sensitive topics, parents are invited to attend and the event is also livestreamed so stakeholders can watch on their own devices. A link of the recorded forum is emailed the following day to all families in the district. A QR code is also used so those viewing the livestream can submit questions or comments anonymously.

During the forum, Graham said they received anonymous tips regarding alleged products, locations and sales to underage youth.

Graham communicated the information to Granville, and an investigation began immediately. On Feb. 27, Erie County Sheriff John C. Garcia, who resides on Grand Island, announced that, following an investigation into illegal marijuana sales out of businesses on Grand Island – led by the narcotics and intelligence units – search warrants were executed at both Island Smoke Shop locations. This resulted in the arrest of 23-year-old Thomas Muscoreil of Grand Island on two counts of criminal possession of cannabis in the second degree (a class “E” felony). He was processed and released on a desk appearance ticket. On March 14, former Erie County District Attorney John J. Flynn announced Muscoreil was arraigned before Grand Island Town Court Justice Mark J. Frentzel. Muscoreil is scheduled to return to court on Wednesday, April 24, for a felony hearing. He was released on his own recognizance as the charge is a non-qualifying offense for bail. Assistant District Attorney Leah A. Higgins of the Justice Courts Bureau is prosecuting the case.

The DA’s office stated, “As are all persons accused of a crime, the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.”

Roles parents can play

“Parents play a critical role in guiding their children away from risky behaviors like drug and alcohol use,” Graham said.

He offered tips and strategies parents can use to help keep their children safe.

•Open communication: Establish and maintain open lines of communication with your children. Encourage honest and judgment-free conversations about drugs and alcohol. Listen to their experiences and feelings without immediate criticism, which can help them feel more comfortable discussing sensitive issues.

•Education: Educate yourself and your children about the dangers and consequences of drug and alcohol use. Knowledge is a powerful tool. Providing factual information can demystify substances and reduce the allure that often comes from curiosity.

•Set clear expectations and consequences: Clearly communicate your expectations regarding drug and alcohol use and be consistent about the consequences of breaking those rules. Consistency helps children understand the importance you place on these issues.

•Be a role model: Children often emulate their parents' behaviors. Display healthy coping mechanisms for stress and anxiety and moderate your own use of alcohol. Avoid using substances as a way to handle problems.

•Know your child’s environment: Be aware of your child’s friends and their families, as well as the events they attend. Peer influence is a significant factor in a child's behavior, so knowing their social circle can help you assess potential risks.

•Encourage positive activities: Involve your children in sports, arts, clubs or other positive activities that engage their time and interests. Such involvement not only builds self-esteem and social skills, but also reduces the amount of unstructured time that could lead to risky behaviors.

•Supervision and boundaries: Provide appropriate supervision and know where your children are and who they are with. Set boundaries that are appropriate for your child’s age and maturity level.

•Build strong relationships: Foster a strong, supportive relationship with your children. A strong bond can make them feel secure and more likely to approach you with their problems or when faced with peer pressure.

•Support school and community efforts: Engage with school and community resources. Attend workshops or seminars on preventing substance abuse, and support school policies aimed at reducing drug and alcohol use.

•Seek professional help, if needed: If you suspect that your child is experimenting with or regularly using drugs or alcohol, seek professional help. Early intervention can prevent more serious substance abuse problems.

Graham reminds families that Jessica Hutchings is a Grand Island School’s social worker, and she also is the coordinator of the Grand Island Family Support Services programming. She is a tremendous advocate and resource for families and can be contacted via email at [email protected].  

Dr. Joshua Lynch, a leader and expert in the areas of emergency medicine and treatment of opioid use disorder, presents at the forum. (Photo courtesy of the Grand Island Central School District)


Effects of e-cigarettes (vaping) on brain of adolescents

Psychotherapist F. Paul Muccigrosso II, B.S., M.S.W., M.B.A., a board member with the local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), concurs with Graham about his concern for electronic cigarettes.

Citing a Journal of Adolescence article, Muccigrosso noted a 2016 report by the U.S. Surgeon General’s Office said e-cigarette use (vaping) by high school students has increased by 900%, and e-cigarettes were the most regularly used tobacco products among students in high and middle schools. The article stated teens were particularly attracted to the e-cigarettes because of the sleek marketing, social media activity, and promotional campaigns, as well as the celebrity endorsements, feature cartoons and sexual appeal.

Muccigrosso explained, “Adolescent brains are especially susceptible to the effects – both positive and negative – of stimulation that is introduced throughout these periods of growth and development. When developing brains are introduced to positive influences, brains grow in productive ways; when developing brains are introduced to negative influences, brain growth is oftentimes retarded or at least hindered in ways that can last for a long time. Introducing vapors, alcohol or nearly any other chemical can have long-term and oftentimes negative effects on the overall development and growth of brain cells in this vulnerable population."

At the recent community forum is Amanda Schrader, a counselor from Horizon Health Services. (Photo courtesy of the Grand Island Central School District)

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