CLIFTON PARK – A report accusing a student of injecting another with heroin at the region’s largest suburban school district set off bouts of hand-wringing Friday over the pervasiveness of the highly addictive drug.
A Shenendehowa student, identified byState Police as Daniel Lewis, 17, allegedly shot up a 15-year-old classmate with a liquid form of heroin in the high school boy’s locker room about 11:30 a.m. Thursday while classes were in session, Superintendent L. Oliver Robinsonsaid. A third student alerted district officials to suspicious activity.
“It wasn’t a forced injection,” State Police Public Information Officer Mark Cepiel said.
Troopers responded to the school on Route 146 and investigated the complaint. They said they found Lewis of Clifton Park in possession of heroin and hypodermic needles. They charged the teen with a felony count of criminal injection of a narcotic drug, misdemeanor drug possession, child endangerment and possession of hypodermic needles.
At a news conference in the district’s office Friday, Robinson called the allegations “particularly alarming.” He said the male students had arranged to meet during physical education class. He characterized it as an isolated incident.
“This is the first reported case of heroin use at Shen,” Robinson said.
But the arrest of a senior for allegedly supplying a sophomore with heroin inside the large southern Saratoga County school during class hours sparked discussions among police, parents and public health officials. The cheap price of heroin makes it increasingly attractive for the young, Cepiel said.
“Heroin use, we have found, unfortunately, is on the upswing in the Capital District, and that does include high school children,” Cepiel said. “It is, in some cases, cheaper than marijuana.”
The 15-year-old was not charged, but that could change, Cepiel said.
Janine Stuchin, executive director of the Alcohol and Substance Abuse Prevention Council, said heroin use among high schoolers was rare and not on the rise. A Prevention Council survey of 6,193 students at eight high schools in Saratoga County, including Shenendehowa, between 2010 and 2013 showed only one percent had used heroin within the past 30 days. That figure matches national statistics, Stuchin said. “It’s not rampant; it’s rare,” she said. “Our data is very consistent. It has not shown a trending upward.”
Prescription narcotic use has risen, however, and that can lead to heroin abuse because a heroin high costs about $10 compared to $60 for prescription drugs, Stuchin said. “We really need to talk about the heroin problem in the context of the prescription drug problem,” she said. “It’s cheaper and easier to buy.”
Six percent of high school students in the county reported using over-the-counter opiates in the past month, while 21 percent admitted using marijuana and 34 percent, alcohol, according to Prevention Council.
The arrest of Lewis at Shenendehowa Thursday occurred after a report was made to school officials by a third student who observed what looked like an exchange of pills between Lewis and the 15-year-old, Robinson said. The district alerted police after one student admitted being under the influence of heroin, the superintendent said. The case marked the first involving heroin in a county school and the first intentional injection of the drug, county District Attorney James A. Murphy III said.
The students involved were checked by a school nurse before being questioned by police, Robinson said. “We found the actual injection did occur,” he said. The district employs hall monitors and surveillance cameras. “I think we have many reasonable precautions, however, each time an incident occurs, it’s an opportunity to reflect,” Robinson said.
Lewis was arraigned before town Justice Robert Rybak. He was taken to the county jail on $2,500 bail and he remained incarcerated Friday afternoon.
Lewis is due back in court Thursday. He faces an extended suspension from school if found guilty. He had no prior criminal history with the State Police, Cepiel said. The trooper said no pills were found by police during their investigation.
About 3,200 students attend Shenendehowa High School.
Sally Vanderzee, president of the Shenendehowa Parent Teacher Student Association, said she was shocked by the allegations. She said parents need to communicate with their children about the dangers of drugs and importance of making good decisions.
“This is a wake-up call for all parents,” Vanderzee said.