Keeping kids off drugs is as simple as opening your eyes and looking for trouble.

Carlos Cruz, a drug, gang and violence prevention education specialist, spoke to 49 people gathered at Midlothian Independent School District last week as part of the district’s Safe and Drug Free Schools program.

“Watch what your kids watch, listen to the music your kids listen to,” said Cruz. “Smell your kids when they come in at night and look into their eyes.

“If you suspect something, you are probably right,” he added. “And the health and safety of your family makes it Ok to be wrong. One of these days your kids will thank you for it.”

A police officer and former under-cover narcotics officer, Cruz said parents and communities always seem surprised to find out how rampant drugs are in their schools or with their kids.

“I can’t tell you how many times there is a bust, or worse a death, in a community and then it’s a national emergency,” said Cruz. “Then people want to organize and hold meetings and do something about drugs. You need to do something about drugs today before something bad happens in the life of a kid.”

Cruz said it is every parent’s responsibility to question their child about drugs and know what is going on in their kids’ life.

“It’s in your high schools and we are seeing it increase in middle schools and we’ve even finding it now in elementary schools,” said Cruz, who lives in Grand Prairie. “Don’t be fooled. You are to be a jealous lover of your children and you have to go out of your way to become informed and you have to maintain control over them.”

Cruz said while kids are smart at hiding drug abuse, parents have to be smarter.

“Smell your kids when they come home,” said Cruz. “Marijuana smells like burnt rope, heroin smells like vinegar and crack (cocaine) and methamphetamine smells like chemicals.

“Give them a simple hug and tell them you love them,” Cruz said with that wise smile of a parent of four. “At the same time you need to take a good whiff of what them smell like. This also works for tobacco and alcohol, too.”

Cruz said other indicators are mood changes, drop in grades, new circle of friends and demand for privacy.

“If you pay the rent it is not snooping or invading their privacy for you to look around their room,” said Cruz. “Most of the time I can look at a kids’ room and get a good indication of if they do drugs.

“If you look at the posters they have on the wall, the things they have on their dresser, the clothes they wear and the music they listen too, it can all add up and tell you if your kid is involved with drugs,” he added.

Cruz brought out a wide variety of drug pipes, stash boxes and paraphernalia. He said parents can usually spot these devices if they look closely.

“If you find marijuana and your kid tell you ‘it’s just marijuana,” said Cruz, “you need to look them in the eye and say, ‘yeah, and it’s just illegal to have it in your possession!’”

A Midlothian High School student who asked not to be identified said it is the time between classes where she sees and hears things that give her cause for concern.

A youngster from Walnut Grove Middle School confirmed that drugs have been found there, too.

Cindy Baxley said she has a middle schooler and part of the reason she was at Cruz’ presentation was to stay informed.

“I don’t think my kids are doing drugs, but I know they are capable of doing drugs,” said Baxley. “That’s why I want to know the latest thing. My kids are too important to me not to stay informed about these things.”

A parent asked why drug dogs were not allowed to search lockers and parking lots at MISD. Another parent wanted to know why all students could not be drug tested like MISD athletes and students involved in extra-curricular activities. They were told there are privacy and proper search and seizure rules that have to be followed.

Sandra Smith, a substitute teacher at MISD, urged the district to support some kind of parenting network to help parents learn the signs of drug abuse and learn where to turn for help.

“A lot of parents are in denial and think this is just a phase their kid is going through,” said Smith. “Parents are the key and working together they can solve the problem.”

It was pointed out REACH Council in Midlothian is involved in local schools and does offer parents a variety of resources and options in fighting drug abuse.

Cruz also pointed out most kids first abuse pills after finding old medicine in the family medicine chest.

“Keep all medication that can be abused in a safe place and keep up with the exact number of pill you have,” said Cruz. “Also, don’t let your child’s friends have access to your medicine cabinet. They ask to go to the bathroom and – let’s face it – they have unlimited access to your prescription medication.”

And Cruz said parents who suspect their kid is using drugs need to confront the issue and get help.

“If you think your child is using drugs, ask them to take a drug test,” he said. “They are going to say, ‘You don’t trust me!’

“You need to tell them if they pass a drug test you will trust them and you will apologize,” Cruz added. “Please remember what you stand to lose if you mistakenly trust them and you are wrong.”

Cruz urged parents to talk with teachers, school counselors, clergy, law enforcement officials and their family doctor if they suspect drug abuse.

“Don’t ignore it, don’t fool yourself, don’t lose your child to a vice that can be prevented,” said Cruz.