A forum for high school parents and community members on Oct. 26 drew about 60 people -- with a significant contingent of district employees, including the principals from all three high schools.
Parents from the group Mothers With a Purpose spoke first, telling stories of their children.
Donna, who asked that her last name not be used, said her son's behavior changed when he was in his senior year and she discovered he was using Oxycontin.
"The world just came to a complete stop when I found out about my son's addiction," she said. "The disease of addiction is powerful and takes over peoples' lives."
Co-founder of the group, Kelly, said her son started smoking marijuana as a high school freshman. He moved on to Oxycontin, which led to heroin, which offers a similar, less expensive high.
Kelly asked her son to move out and said he ended up living under a bridge before asking for help. He's been through several rehabs and recently told his family that he needed to move out of the area to stay clean.
"Just two days ago, I said goodbye to my son. I don't know when I'll see him again," Kelly said. Her story drew some tears.
She also talked about Skittles parties, in which kids dump pills into a bowl and eat whatever they draw.
Kelly urged parents in the audience to pay attention to their children's changes in mood, sleeping patterns, grades and associates.
"It's in our back yards. It's in our medicine cabinets -- that's where it starts," she said. "Addiction is forever. It's a family disease. It never goes away."
Kevin Johnson, the school district's senior director of pupil services, said even a single experiment can be life threatening.
He described a situation involving a girl who wound up with alcohol poisoning. She'd passed out and those with her simply propped her against a tree. Another student recognized the symptoms and called her parents.
"Good kid. One time. It could have been a fatal error," Johnson said.
Marijuana is making its way into middle schools, according to Terese Ghilarducci, a counselor at Village High. She said some parents are lenient when it comes to drug and alcohol use at home, adding that some students have medical marijuana cards.
The forum, sponsored by the city, Pleasanton Unified School District and Axis Community Health, also featured teens from all three high schools.
Daniel, from Village, acknowledged that the alternative school has a bad reputation.
"It's true for the most part, but it's also a place of recovery," he said. "It's a place where they say, 'You messed up, but we're going to give you another chance.'"
Connor, also a Village student, said drugs aren't confined to that school.
"If your kid wants drugs, he's going to find drugs," he said, adding that anger isn't the solution when a parent finds out if his or her child is using.
"Just talk to them. Don't get mad and start yelling," Connor said, which was echoed by Daniel, who added, "Work with him. Don't be the 'grounding' parent."
Matt, from Foothill High, said part of the problem is the easy accessibility of alcohol in many homes.
"That was one of my biggest supplies -- going into my parents' bar," he said.
Matt, Connor and Daniel are now all clean and sober.
But street drugs and alcohol aren't the only substances being abused at schools. Matt pointed out that even athletes chew tobacco.
"Triple C, cough syrup, is another one," he said. "People don't understand that's another drug that kids can get into."
He added that salvia, a hallucinogen, is sold over the counter at a local cigarette store and that spice -- synthetic marijuana -- is readily available.
Johnson said he'd heard recently that a new drug has emerged, called bath salts, which people are smoking or inhaling. The substance got its name because it comes in crystal form that resembles traditional bath salts.
But, he added, a lot of kids' behavior can be rationalized.
"What happens on Wednesday night on Main Street?" he asked, referring to the First Wednesday parties that go on in downtown Pleasanton during the summer. "What do kids see?"
While the other students who spoke all were in recovery, the only problem Amador Valley student Andrea has with drugs or alcohol is what to do when it's obvious others around her are drunk or high, wondering whether she should tell a teacher or confront the student.
"It doesn't seem like it would take much for some students to pull back," she said, adding that many cleaned up their acts -- and their cars -- when it was rumored that police would be doing spot searches. She said that did make a difference at the school, for a while, at least.
The two Pleasanton police officers confirmed that teens can easily find drugs and alcohol.
"It's not just prescription drugs, it's marijuana, it's cocaine, it's ecstasy," said Officer Ryan Tujague of the special enforcement unit. "They're doing it all. It's mind boggling."
Amy Sousa and Sue Feder from Axis Community Health said there are solutions. Feder said parents shouldn't be afraid to spot check their kids by getting them tested for drugs, even if there's no evidence he or she is using.
"Don't be afraid to talk to them," Feder said. "Don't be afraid of their anger."
Sousa reminded the audience that drug and alcohol use is often more than a choice or something a child will outgrow.
"Alcohol is a disease," she said. "Your child is not broken."
The teens and counselors agreed that communication is one key to solving the problem, especially when a child is caught the first time she or he uses.
"The worst thing you can do is punish your child after the first time," Matt said. "If you're more casual about it, rather than an interrogation, you'll get a better result."
The police department also offers a program called the Parent Project, in conjunction with the school district. That course teaches parents how to address issues, including drugs, in a non-confrontational way.
Johnson is a recent grandfather and closed with the story of holding his granddaughter and hoping that when she enters school, drugs won't be even be an issue.
A forum for middle school parents will be held from 7-8:30 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 9, at the Firehouse Arts Center.