Anger Rises After Teen Drug Overdose

Left unconscious for 12 hours after party
The Rev. Walter Silva Thompson Jr. made closing comments to a large group of East Hampton High School parents who gathered in the basement of the Calvary Baptist Church on Tuesday to discuss the explosion of drug use among students. T.E. McMorrow

More than 60 parents of East Hampton High School students gathered at Calvary Baptist Church in East Hampton on Tuesday night to voice their unhappiness over what they see as a runaway explosion of drug use at the school, and to search for answers.

The meeting was triggered in large part by an apparent drug overdose during what parents called a “rave” party at a house on Neck Path in Springs at which alcohol and a variety of drugs were said to have been passed around. Christine Moran, the mother of the victim, Jordan Johnson, 18, a former student at the school, said her son was not treated for about 12 hours after he passed out, until a call went out to police on the morning of Jan. 30. Mr. Johnson suffered at least one stroke while he was unconscious. Doctors feared for his life, and inserted a breathing tube.

He has made great progress since then, Ms. Moran said during a phone interview Tuesday. It is hoped that after six months to a year of rehabilitation, he will regain full use of his arms and legs, she said. He was scheduled to be moved to the Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation yesterday. “I want to thank everyone for their prayers and support,” she said.

Those in attendance at Tuesday night’s session, which was led by two parents, Kim Jones and Bobbi Edwards, were clearly angry. “Let us come together. What can we do, in our homes and outside of our homes, to fight against drug addiction, these pill parties, binge drinking, and risky behavior?” Ms. Jones asked the room at the start of the 90-minute meeting. A Bonac graduate and a credentialed alcohol-abuse counselor specializing in drug prevention, she told the audience that young people today are taking a dizzying array of drugs. “Kids are always trying to find something new,” she said.

Several parents claimed that teens were taking drugs openly in classrooms with teachers looking the other way, and not just in class. “All of a sudden, they have to go to the bathroom,” said a woman who said she works at the school. “You would be surprised about the teachers who see and don’t see.”

Some people suggested that teachers be trained in the administration of Narcan, which reverses the effects of an opiate overdose.

Many parents said class size was an issue. “You’re not allowed to babysit more than five kids at a time,” one mother said, pointing out that some teachers have to deal with classes of 40, without an aide in the room.

Mostly, parents were looking for hard answers. “About 10 years ago, my neighborhood did a community watch program,” one mother said. “We can do that. Bring it back. It used to work. It might stop some of the house parties.” The neighbors met with police, she said, and were trained in what to watch for.

“One of the reasons we are doing this is for us parents to bounce ideas off each other,” Ms. Edwards said, adding that she does random drug testing in her own home and has strict rules about language and behavior.

Benito Villa of Sag Harbor had tears in his eyes as he spoke. A coach of the Pierson High School baseball team, he has been trying to organize a similar gathering in Sag Harbor. “We had a kid on the baseball team O.D. last year during the playoffs,” he said. “We had practice interrupted by police cars.” He told the audience about a state program to combat drug parties. “Dial 866-Under21,” he said. The call goes directly to state police, who then redirect it to local authorities.

One mother told the room about her experiences raising her son, who just turned 22. When he was younger, she said, “I would go through his room. I would search his car. I would go through his phone. I showed up at parties. And I’m constantly asking questions. ‘Mom!’ I was so annoying.”

“Parents need to engage their children,” she continued. “Getting to know them. Conversation. And don’t forget to tell them we love them.”

Ms. Jones agreed, underscoring that it was okay to look through your teenager’s cellphone. “Who pays the bill?” she asked rhetorically.

Parents should also question doctors’ prescriptions for drugs, she said, if they call for more than a few pills.

Another mother questioned the early use of drugs for attention disorders, saying it could become a gateway to addiction. Easy access to marijuana, and its widespread acceptance as harmless, was also mentioned. “You don’t just start on heroin,” Mr. Villa said.

“My husband is on heavy-duty pain-killers,” said one woman. “It’s stuff kids want. It’s not just my child. I have a 14-year-old who is in ninth grade. You don’t know who is coming into your house. Kids will rummage. They are going to rummage through your medicine cabinet, they are going to go into your bedroom and rummage through your drawers. You have to lock this stuff up. You cannot leave them around. It is a little inconvenient, but you are saving a kid’s life.”

“There’s nothing for them to do” was a common refrain. Ms. Jones and several other parents suggested a return to the church. “Parents drop off their kids [at church], then they leave. Our churches are failing,” someone said.

“It comes down to a very important thing,” Capt. Chris Anderson of the East Hampton Town Police Department said yesterday. “Parenting. You can’t wait until they turn 14 or 15 and put a new set of rules in place.” He said detectives were actively continuing to investigate the incident at the party in January.

Walter Thompson Jr., pastor of Calvary Baptist, gave closing remarks. “I’m deeply concerned about the community,” he said. “Each child is important. Each child.”

Ms. Jones told the group she would email all of them for further suggestions and to see what individuals might be able to do, with the understanding, in terms of money and time, that “we are working-class people.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article that appeared online and in print incorrectly said that Jordan Johnson was making great progress since being flown to Stony Brook University Hospital’s trauma center, and attributed that statement to his mother. While she did say that he has made great progress, she did not refer to the hospital. Mr. Johnson was not treated at Stony Brook. 

Jordan Johnson