Drug addiction article sparks Fla. principal to review paper

FLORIDA — Shirking off school and work, dealing drugsand having sex to get his next fix of opiates — a high schoolstudent’s harrowing account of drug addiction reads like a scenefrom a film about heroin like The Basketball Diaries orTrainspotting.

But after it appeared in a high school newspaper, a principalquestioned its propriety and now wants increased control overstudent journalists.

Principal Lynda Boyer at Manatee High School in Bradenton objectedto "An Addict’s Tale," a first-person account of ananonymous student’s addiction to the prescription painkiller OxyContinand heroin, which appeared in The Macohi on Jan. 31.

The article was the first in a series aimed at depicting problemareas in Manatee’s student body. Despite community support forthe article, Boyer said that several students complained to herabout its graphic content.

A section of the article reads: "I watched as he carefullyscratched off the protective white coating and crushed the [OxyContin]pill into dust. He wasn’t entirely with it and I could see thathe was already pretty messed up, so I cut the line for him exactlylike my friends had taught me to do with coke. Using a small plasticMcDonalds straw, Jaime snorted the entire pill and sat down."

OxyContin is a brand name for the generic narcotic oxycodone,a powerful painkiller derived from opium. Its illegal use hasbeen on the rise in recent years, leading to addiction and, insome cases, death.

"This is information that students need to be aware ofand it’s a topic that’s of tremendous concern to our students,"Boyer said. "I have no concern about presenting the information,I just want to make sure that it is the appropriate venue andin the appropriate context."

Boyer said she was concerned that the article did not includeinformation on help available to students who are addicted toOxyContin or figures illustrating the extent of its use at Manatee.

"We were aware that there are students who were usingdrugs," Boyer added. "The concern was the fact that[the article] came totally out of the blue [without advance notice]from either students or teachers. You have to make sure that itdoes fulfill the mission of the school, and our mission is toprotect our students. We have to just weigh it with the communitystandards and weigh it with journalistic integrity, which is anotherconcern here."

Boyer envisioned creating an editorial board including students,teachers and herself that would involve discussion of articlesinstead of outright prior review. But a lawyer for the schooldistrict informed her on Tuesday that she and adviser Linda VanMetre should bear responsibility for what is published in thepaper.

This responsibility includes reading the newspaper before itgoes to print.

"I don’t like the idea of prior review, I’m very mucha First Amendment issues person," Boyer said. "I reallyam not in favor of censorship."

The remainder of the series will still be printed, but willbe reviewed by Boyer and Van Metre prior to publication.

District spokeswoman Marianne Lorentzen said there is currentlyno district-wide policy for content review of student publications.Instead, each individual school decides its policy.

Van Metre did not return phone calls from the SPLC. A localnewspaper, The Bradenton Herald, reported that Van Metreand Michael Maietta, the author of the controversial article,made an agreement not to talk to the media.