Last Friday, when three Mattituck High School students were arrested for marijuana possession, they weren’t the only North Forkers getting high.
April 20 — known within the drug culture as 420, which is also the time in the afternoon many marijuana users get high — is something of a national holiday for pot smokers, and Mattituck school officials were aware that some kids would probably come to school high, says Mattituck principal Shawn Petretti.
Those arrests, and the larger problem of heroin in the community, were on the minds of many who attended The North Fork Alliance’s town hall meeting on alcohol and drug use at Mattituck High School Tuesday night.
Mr. Petretti said he’s been to two funerals this year for Mattituck alumni in their late 20s who died of drug overdoses.
One of those students was Mike Maffetone, who died in February. His brother, Paul Maffetone, was in the audience Tuesday night.
“I graduated from Mattituck five years ago. I never heard the word heroin here,” Mr. Maffetone said, adding that he used to drink screwdrivers while he was in school and didn’t get caught, but he didn’t ever believe his brother would do drugs.
Mr. Maffetone said it’s very easy for kids to become addicted to heroin after they’ve been given painkillers for sports-related injuries.
“How many kids go through ACL surgery in high school and get addicted to painkillers?” he asked. “I had hernia surgery and the doctor gave me 90 oxycodone pills and two refills. It only takes 60 pills to get addicted. If you look at the cost of pills, and then a bag of heroin costs $5, a lot of people think their kids won’t stick needles in them, but they’re wrong.”
Kym Laube, executive director of HUGS (Human Understanding and Growth) in Westhampton and the forum’s keynote speaker, said that while there’s a great fear of heroin within the media, alcohol kills more kids at the high school level than all illegal drugs combined. Alcohol is the drug most frequently used by teenagers, followed by marijuana.
Mr. Petretti said two parents of Mattituck students contacted him over the weekend with more details about the marijuana use on school property last Friday, and the school has worked to encourage students to inform the district about drugs.
“At least 80 percent of the time, when we find out about drugs it’s based on students telling us something. There are ways to do that without being a rat,” he said. “You’re hearing about more drug issues in part because more kids are coming forward.”
One of those kids wasn’t afraid to tell the public what she’s seen.
“A lot of people smoked pot after school” on Friday, said 10th-grader Britney Longley, a member of the school’s Students Against Destructive Decisions, at the meeting. She said she was invited to five pot-related parties over the weekend but declined to attend.
Ms. Laube said statistics show that teens on the East End are drinking and using drugs at a higher rate than in Suffolk County, New York State and the nation.
“We’re in wine country culture, and there’s a little bit of the ‘drinking village with a fishing problem’ syndrome,” she said. “And then there’s the tourism industry. You have young people working in places where they’re exposed to alcohol at a higher rate. The North Fork has a lot of points of access for underage drinking.”
Ms. Laube said that parents today tend to minimize the dangers of alcohol and marijuana use in their homes.
“You never say it’s OK if Sally shoplifts as long as I’m with her,” she said. “You never say it’s OK if Johnny snorts coke at our dining room table.”
She said boys begin drinking at an average age of 11, while girls begin at age 13. Recent research has proven that human brains aren’t fully formed until age 25, she added, stating that the longer parents keep their kids from drinking, the less likely their children are to become alcoholics.
She urged parents to host adult social events in their homes without serving alcohol and to wait up for their teenagers and actively engage them in conversation when they come home to determine if they’ve been drinking.
“You always hear ‘look for them to be irritable and tired’ to tell if kids have been using drugs,” Ms. Laube said. “They’re teenagers! They’re going to be irritable and tired … The number one turnoff for them is when parents are waiting up for them.”
“They’re children. They need to be supervised,” said Mr. Petretti. “Get to know their friends. Talk to their parents before sleepovers … If you’re not comfortable with it, say no. They’re adolescents. They’re going to get mad at you no matter what you do. You might as well say no.”