Drugs in public AL schools: A look at the numbers

Drugs in public AL schools: A look at the numbers
Danny Malloy works for Addiction Prevention Coalition and shares his story of addiction and recovery with students. Source: WBRC video
Danny Malloy works for Addiction Prevention Coalition and shares his story of addiction and recovery with students. Source: WBRC video

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - Danny Molloy knows about the power of transformation.

Originally from Boston, MA, Molloy became addicted to prescription pills in his twenties. He started dealing to support his habit, transitioned into using heroin, and was arrested for distribution.

It wasn't until he found help at the Foundry Ministries six years ago that he was able to change his life.

"It's not perfect, but it's worth it," he says of his journey.

"We have a new choice every day to make – whether we are going to take the right path or the wrong path," he said.

That's Molloy's message to kids in schools.

He works for Addiction Prevention Coalition, a grass-roots organization working to prevent substance abuse, sharing his story of addiction and recovery.

APC hosts voluntary afterschool programs in 17 Birmingham-area high schools to develop leadership and decision-making skills.

"We're not necessarily going in and saying, 'Don't do drugs,' because we know that model doesn't work," Molloy explained.

Instead, APC creates structured groups where students can share goals, discuss obstacles, and confide in one another about stress.

"We let them ask the questions, 'How is me getting high going to better my life?'" he explained.

"Then then have the self-realization that it's not. The conversation comes full circle in all of our groups," Molloy said.

"We try to be a safe place to discuss the issues that they're having and how drugs play a role in that," he added.

Based on his experience, Molloy says drugs are in all schools.

"The idea that drugs are in bad neighborhoods or bad schools or maybe more financially troubled areas is just a complete fallacy," he says.

The Alabama State Department of Education publishes an annual report summarizing the number times drugs are found on school grounds.

Dr. Marrilyn Lewis oversees the department's prevention and support services. She says alcohol and tobacco are most prevalent in schools, and tracked separately from drugs.

Local school administrators report to the state the number of times drugs are found at school, but the reporting does not include information about what types of drugs are found.

A state report shows 1,774 drug-related incidents reported for 2014-2015. That resulted in more than 1,300 student suspensions and 122 expulsions.

An analysis of nearly 500 schools in north-central Alabama from the department's 2015 report shows that schools in urban and rural areas find drugs in schools.

More than 630 drug incidents were reported for this region.

Ten schools among the most with reported drug incidents per student include:

Northside High School - Tuscaloosa County
13 incidents/457 students (2.84 percent or 1 incident per 35 students)

George Washington Carver - Birmingham City
21 incidents/791 students (2.65 percent or 1 incident per 38 students)

Central Middle School - Coosa County
8 incidents/311 students (2.57 percent or 1 incident per 40 students)

Wenonah High School - Birmingham City
17 incidents/775 students (2.19 percent or 1 incident per 46 students)

Central High School - Coosa County
7 incidents/336 students (2.08 percent or 1 incident per 48 students)

Greensboro Middle School - Hale County
7 incidents/348 students (2.01 percent or 1 incident per 50 students)

McAdory High School - Jefferson County
18 incidents/1003 students (1.79 percent or 1 incident per 56 students)

Pleasant Grove High School - Jefferson County
9 incidents/524 students (1.72 percent or 1 incident per 58 students)

Brookwood High School - Tuscaloosa County
15 incidents/982 students (1.53 percent or 1 incident per 66 students)

Smith Middle School - Birmingham City
7 incidents/514 students (1.36 percent or 1 incident per 73 students)

The state report discloses the number of incidents. It's possible that a single student or group of students is responsible for more than one incident.

According to Lewis, the department has no information on what drugs prompt reporting reflected in the annual report.

Lewis said that information would be accessed locally at the school or school district.

Requests to individual school districts identified above produced varying responses.

Schools in the Jefferson County School District with some of the most drug incidents are associated with marijuana, prescription medication, Nyquil, or a student's failure to follow the medication policy.

The district provided information for the 2015-2016 school year.

Hale County Schools Superintendent Osie Pickens says the seven incidents reported for Greensboro Middle School are associated with marijuana and stem from one student selling to several others.

Pickens also explains that the school mistakenly reported 14 drug incidents; she says the school only had seven.

Hoover and Tuscaloosa school systems did not respond to requests for information.

Birmingham City Schools did not provide information about what drugs are found in its schools.

But spokesperson Chanda Temple addressed George Washington Carver in a statement:

"The environment at Carver High School and all of our schools is conducive to effective teaching and learning. The school also grew its graduation rate by 19 percent in three years," Temple said.

Temple also writes that the data, 21 incidents reported in 2015, does "not represent disorder or an out-of-control environment at Carver High School or any of our schools. In fact, we are proactive in providing a safe and secure environment at all of our schools."

Vestavia Hills City Schools System offered a spokesperson to answer questions about how the school fosters open communication about substance abuse.

Since 2014, the school system participates in Help the Hills, a program fostering open communication between parents, educators and community leaders.

"We don't need to sweep the issue under the rug. We need to own it," spokesman Whit McGhee said about creating dialogue addressing substance abuse and addiction.

But when asked what drugs were associated with the seven incidents the school reported for 2015, McGee responded with an emailed statement.

"I do not have access to incident-specific information because it is protected under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act," McGhee said.

Also known by its acronym FERPA, it's a law protecting the privacy of student information. Though the request clarified that it did not seek names of students or dates of incidents, the request was denied.

Molloy is not surprised about the reluctance of some school systems to share information.

"There's so much shame," he says. "Especially when you get into certain neighborhoods; they don't want to admit there's a problem."

But those challenges fuel Molloy's commitment to his cause.

"This isn't about pride, this is not about what neighborhood we live in, this is about people's lives," Molloy said, adding that more honesty is better.

"Be open and honest about the things that are going on. And say the words, don't be afraid of them – pills, heroin. Drinking and driving."

To look through a sortable spreadsheet that lists all schools in the counties of the WBRC FOX6 News area, see below:

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