Parents, experts calling for increased drug monitoring following Armstrong High School incident

It’s a call to concerns around drug awareness, especially around minors. Experts and parents say increased monitoring could help.
Published: Oct. 19, 2023 at 6:57 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 19, 2023 at 6:59 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Richmond parents are now calling it a weird and emotional day after four teens ingested suspected cannabis Wednesday while at school.

Those students went in to “medical distress” while their peers worried for their safety. Now, everyone is physically okay, but emotionally and mentally, some say they are still off.

It’s a call to concerns around drug awareness, especially around minors. Experts and parents say increased monitoring could help.

The incident happened at Armstrong High School around 11:30 a.m. Parents were not given an update from the principal until later in the afternoon, and one family member of an Armstrong student says she felt like they were left in the dark.

In a statement, RPS responded saying:

“Student wellness and safety is a top priority for RPS. When an event occurs on a school campus that needs to be communicated out to the broader community, we prioritize getting accurate, complete, and timely information to parents from the school leadership. Yesterday, we first ensured that the students involved were cared for and the incident was resolved fully before notifying parents. Parents received the following notification from Principal Carter yesterday afternoon via Remind. Our alert system is fast, accurate, and more than 90 percent of parents across Richmond participate in it.”

Kelly Malone is an RPS parent and has a niece at Armstrong. She says she appreciated it when the principal sent a message. It seemed approachable for parents’ input. Now, she wants to make sure something like this does not happen again.

“A lot of people are saying that marijuana is legal. It is not legal for minors,” Malone said. “I don’t think the community feels what this does to Richmond city, the parents, the community, other kids and surrounding counties. I don’t think they get it. This could have been fatal. And we’re just thankful that it wasn’t.”

These scares are a problem about which Dr. Michelle Peace has been worried.

She works in Virginia Commonwealth University’s forensic science lab and is nationally recognized for her work. Since 2018, she’s been studying what actually is in cannabis products when it is sold to people.

She takes cannabis items off of shelves to analyze what is in them.

“The consumer has zero ability to make an informed decision about what they’re consuming,” Peace said. “There are hundreds, if not 1,000s, of these semi-synthetic compounds that can be manufactured and put into products. So now what we see is that one, the labels are inaccurate, at best, utter lies at worst.”

She says that means doses can often be very off or dispersed unevenly in edible cannabis products. This can lead to people taking more than they anticipated and having weird side effects, which can lead to an emergency room visit.

Though she says, more than likely, there was no fentanyl in the products students consumed, the side effects can be similar. She says that risk is there and maybe even higher when people make their own.

The bottom line is that she says we need to monitor products, especially since they undeniably will get into kids’ hands.

“They are looking at in some cases there’s this really complicated relationship between cannabis and THC with psychosis. So, you know, you’re looking at potential events that are going to send people to the emergency room. And in Virginia, we’ve had a death,” Peace said. “When you’re not monitoring quality assurance of these products, consumers will take the burden.”

Even though cannabis products are legal, Peace says they must be monitored, and schools must be aware. Malone agrees and says kids need to not give in to peer pressure, and their parents need to help with that message at home.

”The parents have to reinforce it. And that is a message we as a community have to reinforce,” Malone said.

Dr. Peace wants parents, kids and schools to be educated on these products and know the labels’ doses may not be accurate to what you’re taking.

She says there is an education gap with cannabis products, especially their impact. Malone says she wants some community groups to discuss solutions to keeping these items away from kids.