Prescription Drug Misuse Awareness Week

Did you know that the average age kids start misusing prescription drugs is 12? Or that 300 Montanans died last year because of prescription drug misuse?

Striking.

Missoula Underage Substance Abuse Prevention and The Missoula Forum for Children & Youth are shining the light on prescription drug misuse and abuse this week with several events, including a summit and a community conversation.

Already MUSAP, along with several other organizations, is working to prevent the prescription drug abuse epidemic from growing and has put out a Parent Resource Guide, which is chock-full of tips on how to talk to kids about prescription drugs, alcohol and more.

The guide is intended to be used frequently, said Brandee Tyree, MUSAP’s coordinator.

Feedback from the community has been mixed about the guide, but overall positive, Tyree said.

Some parents tell her, “Gee, thanks for giving me something else to worry about,” she said.

But, knowing what issues kids are facing, how to talk to them about the issues and doing so continually ultimately leads to a healthier, safer community.

See the resource guide here.

And if you want to share thoughts on prescription drug abuse issues, go to the Safeguard our Kids, Safeguard our Prescriptions community conversation from 7 to 8:30 p.m. tonight at the City Life Community Center, 1515 Fairview Ave.

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Workshop on child predator prevention starts Thursday

There’s lots of info in the paper today about the workshop on how to spot – and stop – child predators. The two-day workshop starts tomorrow, Thursday, at 5 p.m. and is free and open to the public. It’s a joint forum organized by Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock, the Flathead County Children’s Advocacy Center and the Missoula County Attorney’s Office.

The three are teaming up to help teach adults how to protect children from child molesters – not just parents, but teachers and other child care workers as well.

The two-and-a-half-hour training session will include a presentation by the co-director of the Center for Behavioral Intervention in Beaverton, Oregon, Cory Jewell, as well as a talk on Internet crimes against children by Assistant U.S. Attorney Cyndee Peterson.

Interested? It’s on the sixth floor of the Garlington, Lohn and Robinson Building, at 350 Ryman Street. Please note that registration IS required, and you can register by contacting Kimberly Dudik via email at kdudik@mt.gov.

Dudik is also one of the authors of a guest column in today’s Missoulian, which you can read here.

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Baby formula a top target for shoplifters

Last week ABC News carried an in-depth story about the dramatic numbers of thefts involving formula for infants.

It’s on a scale that suggests this formula is not being stolen by desperate parents; rather, it’s become a hot item for organized retail thieves.

In response, the International Formula Council and others are asking U.S. Congress members to make baby formula theft an offense subject to federal racketeering laws.

These groups want to crack down on the formula thefts not only because it’s a growing crime, but also because it presents a potential hazard to infants who are fed stolen formula:

“Improper storage conditions can potentially affect the nutrient content or physical appearance of infant formula, which could impact the product’s nutritional value and safety as well as potentially threaten an infant’s health,” says the International Formula Council’s Robert Rankin, as quoted in the article.

It’s worth reading to the end of this news story for the account of a recent bust named “Operation Milk Money” by the feds. It gives a sense of where this formula is ending up – and how much money the thieves are making off their crime.

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Kids and guns at school in the news

We all remember the recent incident – it was just after Thanksgiving – in which a Columbia Falls teen faced suspension for bringing her hunting rifle to school in the trunk of her car.

Columbia Falls High School student Demari DeReu, upon learning that the school was conducting a “sweep” through the parking lot, volunteered the information that she had stored the rifle in the trunk following a Thanksgiving weekend hunting trip. She was suspended, but allowed to return to school following a open hearing before the board of trustees.

Then, in Great Falls, a C.M. Russell High School student was suspended for bringing a gun to school. It too was stored in the teenager’s car, but in this case it was found following a report of an off-campus “altercation.” Following a closed-door hearing, the student was expelled.

Now, in the most recent case that I’m aware of, two eighth-graders in Florence have been suspended over a BB gun found at Florence-Carlton Middle School. One of the boys brought the plastic Airsoft to school in his backpack, apparently intending to move it from his grandmother’s house back to his own house. The second boy found the unloaded toy gun in the other boy’s backpack at the end of the day.

Their full punishment is yet to be determined, but was arrived at in a close-door hearing that decided the boys will not be expelled.

I wonder if stuff like this happens as often in other states.

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New DVDs for police and community help protect kids from Internet sex crimes

Every time I turn around there’s another reason to cheer the state’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force in general and the Missoula bureau in particular. Over the past year Missoula’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force has busted several alleged would-be child predators who thought they were communicating online with underage girls who were, in reality, undercover police detectives.

Talk about a nasty job. I still cannot fathom how these officers manage to go to work every day and plumb the depths of depravity in search of scumbags who want to have sex with children. But they do – and they could use all the help they can get from the public to keep Montana’s children safe.

Yesterday the state Attorney General’s Office, in conjunction with the U.S. Attorney General’s Office, announced the release of two new training videos on Internet safety. They are meant to be used by law enforcement and by “other trained professionals in Montana communities.”

Here’s the full release, complete with links to additional web resources.

– MM

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When should schools notify parents of potential threats to students?

Today’s Missoulian editorial argues that schools have a duty to notify the parents of their students immediately once school officials become aware of a potential threat:

On Nov. 9, three C.S. Porter Middle School students recounted how a young man with dark, curly hair grabbed one of them by her backpack but left empty-handed when her sisters came to her aid.

They gave a detailed description of the man and his car, which they had seen around the Clark Street neighborhood. This description matches that of a suspect who was charged earlier this month with raping one woman in downtown Missoula and sexually assaulting another. Joshua Jeremy Peltier, 21, is also being charged with attempted kidnapping and two counts of robbery, among other felonies.

Despite the fact that this incident was reported to police and to officials at C.S. Porter, nobody alerted the parents of C.S. Porter students. Finally, the mother of the three girls realized that the police did not intend to make the information public and contacted Principal Gail Chandler, who sent out a letter to parents a full 10 days after the incident occurred.

And on a related note, also in today’s Missoulian is the information about yesterday’s lockdown at Hellgate Elementary School.

An alleged disturbance between two elderly brothers led to a brief lockdown of Hellgate Elementary School late Monday morning, according to the Missoula Police Department.

Police received a report at about 11:35 a.m. of a restraining order violation in the 2000 block of Flynn Lane. When they got there, they saw and spoke to a man with a handgun, who’d allegedly been making threats.

The area was cordoned off and the man was convinced to surrender after about half an hour, according to Missoula police Detective Sgt. Bob Bouchee. Because the incident occurred so close to the school, it was locked down for a little while.

Here’s the part of the story that floored me: “Police checked back within half an hour to say the situation was under control, and parents were updated through a telephone notification system …”

Talk about immediate notification! Granted, these two situations – and the police response to them – were very different. Still, when it comes to letting parents know about any possible danger to their kids, I hope every school would take the approach that it’s better to be safe than sorry.

– MM

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Coalition criticizes media for failing to give deaths of abused or neglected children due coverage

Woah. According to a new analysis from the National Coalition to End Child Abuse Deaths, “deaths from the H1N1 virus, food-borne illnesses, Toyota accelerator malfunctions and coal mining … add up to a small fraction of the toll of child abuse deaths in the United States.”

In fact, it says, “U.S. child abuse deaths also eclipse the number of U.S. combat fatalities in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.”

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Meet the cops who keep our kids safe from online predators

Missoula police Detectives Chris Shermer and Guy Baker and Missoula County sheriff’s Detective T.J. McDermott, from right, are the linchpins of the Missoula Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. Shermer works full time busting Internet predators, while Baker and McDermott are part time on the task force. Photo by MICHAEL GALLACHER/Missoulian

Missoula police Detectives Chris Shermer and Guy Baker and Missoula County sheriff’s Detective T.J. McDermott, from right, are the linchpins of the Missoula Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. Shermer works full time busting Internet predators, while Baker and McDermott are part time on the task force. Photo by MICHAEL GALLACHER/ Missoulian

Wow! Check out the excellent story by Gwen Florio in today’s Missoulian about the Missoula Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. Not only do these policemen nab would-be child predators by posing as potential victims online, they also give presentations at local schools on how our community can help keep kids safe.

Back in September, the Missoulian published an editorial lauding these law enforcement officers and encouraging parents “to be constantly tapped into the virtual world in which their kids are participating, so that when something sketchy happens, they will be there to notice it – and help the officers with the Internet Crimes Against Children program put a stop to it.”

To arrange a presentation for your school or group, call Missoula Police Detective Chris Shermer at 552-6300.

– MM

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Grandparents, beware! Do not send your ‘grandchildren’ money

Scam artists will use every trick in the book to con people into sending them money, but it takes a particularly heartless crook to prey on grandparents’ love for their grandchildren.

Sadly, it seems some people have no shame, because today the Montana Attorney General’s Office sent out a media release warning Montanans about a relatively new scam targeting grandparents. Seems a Billings resident and a Billings police detective were alerted to the scheme, which involves phone calls to elderly people from a stranger pretending to be their grandchild.

“Sometimes, the caller is crying and sounds in distress and may claim to be in a foreign country,” the release says. “Despite differences in the details, the call always leads to one thing: the grandparent must wire cash to help his or her grandchild. While the entire scenario is fiction the person’s actual grandchild is not in trouble, once a trusting grandparent wires money overseas, it is virtually impossible to recover.”

In fact, the state Office of Consumer Protection estimates Montana grandparents have been scammed out of an estimated $68,000 so far. Ugh.
If you are a grandparent, you might want to take some time to research the most prevalent scams. You know, guard yourself with information. And if you have a grandparent in your life, you might want to talk with them about scams like this – and maybe reassure them that you would never suddenly leave the country without telling them first.

And everyone should look into the AG Office’s new Scam Alerts system, which you can read about and sign up for at www.consumerprotection.mt.gov. It is set up to send out an alert whenever a new scam is being investigated in Montana, so we can be warned away from them before they spread.

– MM

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