Xanax investigation leads to arrest; Monument Mountain sends warning to families

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GREAT BARRINGTON — A Housatonic 18-year-old was arrested in connection with distributing Xanax on Tuesday — a day before Monument Mountain Regional High School officials warned parents of the drug's presence at the school.

Ethan Morris, a student at the school, was arrested Tuesday after undercover Great Barrington police officers bought several Xanax pills from him.

The arrest followed an investigation that had revealed Morris was involved in illegal drug distribution, according to a Police Department press release sent late Wednesday afternoon.

Great Barrington Police Chief William Walsh declined to comment on whether Morris had distributed Xanax at Monument.

Peter Dillon, superintendent of Berkshire Hills Regional School District, said he was aware of Morris' arrest late Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning.

"If it's a police matter, I defer to the police," he said when reached by The Eagle late Wednesday afternoon.

Dillon also declined to comment on whether the school district was involved in the police investigation that led to Morris' arrest.

When asked if Morris was distributing Xanax at Monument Mountain, Dillon said that neither school officials nor local police have been able to identify a source of the drug — if any — at the school.

At about 10 a.m. Wednesday, Monument Mountain parents received an emailed letter from school officials warning them that some students were using Xanax recreationally.

Officials first learned about the problem about four or five days prior to sending the letter, Dillon said.

Pharmaceutical Xanax is a benzodiazepine — a tranquilizer that is often prescribed for anxiety.

It acts on the central nervous system to produce sedation and reduce anxiety.

Counterfeit — non-pharmaceutical — Xanax can potentially contain other chemicals like fentanyl, a potent narcotic up to 50 times more powerful than heroin.

District officials don't know whether students are ingesting counterfeit or pharmaceutical Xanax.

As part of an ongoing investigation, the district has determined that several students had been using Xanax.

But school officials are uncertain about the number of students using. "My fear is that it's many more than that," Dillon said.

The letter, signed by Monument Mountain Principal Amy Rex and Assistant Principal Scott Annand, warned parents of the symptoms of Xanax use, which include drowsiness, confusion, impaired coordination and temporary amnesia.

Rex and Annand could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Students suspected of being under the influence will have their bags, lockers and potentially cars searched, according to the letter.

In the coming weeks, the district plans to ramp up drug education — probably about Xanax and other drugs, Dillon said.

"This is a tough challenge," he said. "What I'm most interested in investing our time in is — how can we build relationships with young people and engage them, so they're not drawn to this stuff?"

Patricia LeBoeuf can be reached at pleboeuf@berkshireeagle.com, at @BE_pleboeuf on Twitter and 413-496-6247.


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