Two weeks ago the death of Forestville High School student Rico Marshall stunned my Prince George's community -- and the region. In the days that followed we learned the tragic facts: that this football star died of cocaine intoxication and that he had been arrested on drug charges.
Rico Marshall's case proves once again that the drug culture is the most pervasive and frightening threat to the health and safety of our young people. The massive infusion of drugs into the Washington area, and its accompanying violence, have an insidious grip on our most precious resource: our children.
Let me give you some statistics that will bring home the enormity of the problem -- the same statistics, by the way, that were used by the Rand Corp. in its study, reported in The Post on Friday. The federal government has been collecting data on illicit drugs from emergency rooms and medical examiners for something called DAWN, the Drug Abuse Warning Network. The 1986 data reveal that drugs are mentioned in hospital admissions twice as often in Washington as in two dozen other large metropolitan areas. And data from medical examiners reveal that five times as many deaths are attributed to heroin here in Washington as in the other large cities surveyed. There were four times as many deaths attributed to cocaine, and 18 times more deaths attributed to PCP.
How can we make a dent in slowing down and eventually stopping this scourge? It will take cooperation between agencies in each local jurisdiction, as well as interjurisdictional cooperation. As a school board member in Prince George's, I've been thinking of one potential avenue of cooperation that might help. It would involve school administrators and law enforcement officials. It could save lives.
I'm speaking about the possibility of law enforcement agencies' sharing crucial information with selected school personnel -- information concerning a student's involvement with drugs or drug trafficking.
Hold on! I hear you say. What about confidentiality and, yes, students' constitutional rights? Hear me out: this is not Big Brother talking here, but a concerned father seeking a way to help our children.
Currently juveniles' police records are confidential, and school administrators are not privy to arrest records or information gleaned from police interrogation. But perhaps they should be. Vital information about our children is of little use if it is known only to police. But a sharing of that vital information might allow school administrators to intervene at a crucial time in a young person's life. I'm thinking, of course, of Rico Marshall. If school authorities had known of his previous arrest record, could they have helped? Without that information, neither the principal nor his coach had reason to suspect a problem.
A youngster on drugs presents a problem not only to law enforcement officers but to the people who are trying to educate him as well. I would like to see the Maryland legislature review the juvenile statutes and consider legislation. Perhaps they could find some way to relax the rules on releasing records that are now sealed. If law enforcement agencies and the schools were to work together, they could provide more protection -- for that's what it would be, protection -- to the students than now exists.
I'd rather that we got our information from the police, in time to help, than from emergency rooms or, worse, medical examiners. -- Angelo Castelli