THE USE OF ILLEGAL SUBSTANCES

In my nine years as a teacher and six as a dean of students, I have witnessed firsthand the proliferation of the use of controlled substances by students and the devastation that these drugs inflict on them. During my years as dean of discipline, I have caught many students using drugs or have found all kinds of drugs on them while conducting random searches.  Over the years, the drug of preference has been marijuana, but for some years now, many students have turned to over-the-counter drugs and prescription drugs to achieve the mind-altering effects that these substances produce.  Drugs such as OxyContin , Vicodin and other pain-killers are widely being used by students, sometimes with tragic consequences. 

 The effects of drugs on a child’s education are extremely detrimental.  I have met students who have succumbed to drugs and whose lives have changed dramatically for the worse. Children who experiment with drugs generally are the ones with a very high number of truancies by the end of the semester.  Their grades begin to plummet and their behavior changes dramatically.

According to the National Coalition for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion in the article titled “Alcohol & Drug Use, alcohol is one of the most widely used drug substances in the world.  Alcohol use and binge drinking among our nation’s youth is a major public health problem.

●  Alcohol is used by more young people in the United States than tobacco or illicit drugs.

●  Excessive alcohol consumption is associated with approximately 75,000 deaths per year.

●  Alcohol is a factor in approximately 41% of all deaths from motor vehicle crashes.

●  Among youth, the use of alcohol and other drugs has been linked to unintentional injuries, physical fights, academic and occupational problems and illegal behavior.

●  Long-term alcohol misuse is associated with liver disease, cancer, cardiovascular disease and neurological damage as well as psychiatric problems such as depression, anxiety and antisocial personality behavior.

As we can see, the use of alcohol is not only detrimental to the health of our students, but

it also promotes poor academic habits and often leads to unintentional injuries and violent behavior.  Despite the zero-tolerance laws that make it illegal for youths under 21 years of age to drive with any measurable amount of alcohol in their system, 10% of high school students reported driving a car or other vehicle during the past 30 days when they had been drinking.

            According to the same article, marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug among youth in the United States.  Current marijuana use decreased from 27% in 1990 to 21% in 2009.  Current cocaine use increased from two percent in 1991 to four percent in 2001 and then decreased from 2001 (four percent) to 2009 (three percent).  Lifetime inhalant use decreased from 20% in 1995 to 12% in 2003 and then remained steady from 2003 (12%) to 2009 (12%).  Lifetime use of ecstasy among high school students decreased from 11% in 2003 to seven percent in 2009.  Lifetime use of methamphetamines was steady from 1999 (nine percent) to 2001 (10%) and then decreased to four percent in 2009.  Lifetime heroin use did not change from 1999 (two percent) to 2009 (two percent).  Hallucinogenic drug use decreased from 13% in 2001 to eight percent in 2007 and then remained steady from 2007 (eight percent) to 2009 (eight percent).

            The reason to provide parents with the above data is to give them a panoramic history of the use of the different illegal substances and how such use by our youth has evolved over the years.  For example, in the school where I work in Southern California, the drugs of choice are marijuana, prescription and over-the-counter drugs.

 As a dean, I have seen firsthand how marijuana and prescription and OTC drugs have increased in popularity over the last five years among high school students.  According to this article, while illicit drug use has declined among youth, the rate of nonmedical use of prescription and OTC drugs has remained high. Prescription medication most commonly abused by youth include pain relievers, tranquilizers, stimulants and depressents.

            In 2009, 20% of U. S. high school students had at one time or another taken a prescription drug such as OxyCotin, Percocet, Vicodine, Adderall, Ritalin or Xanax without a doctor’s prescription.  Teens also misused OTC cough and cold medications containing the cough suppressant Dextromethorpaham (DMX) to get high.  Prescription and OTC medications are widely available, free or inexpensive, and falsely believed to be safer than illicit drugs.  Misuse of prescription and OTC medications can cause serious health effects, addiction and death.

            From the academic perspective and my own experience as a dean of discipline and teacher, alcohol and drug use pose special problems for students.  For example, the average student who smokes marijuana regularly usually has three or more grades of D’s or F’s.  Also, this type of student is constantly in denial and claims to be able to stop whenever he or she so desires.  Nevertheless, that is very far from the truth, and I usually have contact with these students over and over again when they are caught in possession of illegal substances during school hours.  Their recurrent use of their drug of choice usually hinders their ability to concentrate and earn passing grades that can potentially lead them to academic success or even a higher education.

            Throughout the country, most school districts are leaning more toward enacting drug intervention programs.  Some of these programs include student and parent education on the detrimental effects of drug abuse.  For example, School Health Policies and Programs Study (SHPPS) conducts a national survey periodically to assess school health policies and programs at the state, district, school and classroom level, including those related to alcohol and drug use.

            According to the Tarzana Treatment Center, located in Southern California, parents should be aware of the following behavior:

            ●  In the home, loss of interest in family activities

            ●  Disrespect for family rules

            ●  Withdrawal from responsibilities

            ●  Verbal or physical abuse

            ●  Sudden increase or decrease in appetite

            ●  Disappearance of valuable items or money

            ●  Late home arrivals

            ●  Secretiveness about whereabouts

            ●  Constant excuses for behavior

            ●  Confinement for long periods of time in their rooms

            ●  Lies about activities

            ●  Appearance of the following paraphernalia in their rooms:  cigarette rolling papers, pipes, roach clips,  small glass vials, plastic baggies, remnants of drugs (seeds, etc.)

            Some of the signs relative to school are the following:

            ●  Sudden drop in grades

            ●  Truancies

            ●  Loss of interest in learning

            ●  Sleeping in class

            ●  Poor work performance

            ●  Refusal to do homework

            ●  Defiance of authorities

            ●  Poor attitude toward sports and other extracurricular activities

            ●  Reduced memory and attention span

            ●  Refusal to inform parents about meetings, open houses, etc.

            The Tarzana Treatment Center also enumerates the following physical and emotional signs:

            ●  Constant change of friends

            ●  Smell of alcohol or marijuana on breath or body

            ●  Unexplainable mood swings and behavior

            ●  Exhibition of the following behaviors:  negative, argumentative, paranoid, confused,                destructive or anxious

            ●  Overreaction to criticism and rebellious behavior

            ●  Refusal to share their personal problems

            ●  Manifestation of sadness and depression as compared to prior times

            ●  Exhibition of fatigue or hyperactivity

            ●  Drastic weight loss or gain

            ●  Tendency to cheat and steal

            ●  Need of money or abundance of it

            ●  Sloppiness in appearance

            In addition, the Tarzana Treatment Center claims that the path to drug addiction starts with experimentation.  Youngsters may try drugs out of curiosity because friends are doing it or in an effort to erase another problem.  At first, the substance seems to solve the problem or make life better.  So, he or she uses the drug more often, but as the addiction progresses, getting and using the drug becomes more and more important and the user’s ability to stop using it is compromised.  What begins as a voluntary choice turns into a physical and psychological need.

            The good news is that drug addiction is treatable.  With treatment and support, you as a parent can counteract the disruptive effects of addiction and help your children regain control of their lives.

            In summary, drugs and their detrimental effects become an enormous problem for our youth, not only in this country, but throughout the world.  As parents, we must be vigilant and perceptive of behavioral changes in our children’s lives.  Also, we must be aware that drug addiction does not discriminate based on the age or social status of a person.

            Oftentimes, as parents we refuse to accept the fact that our son or daughter has a drug problem and go through a denial phase, thinking that if we ignore the problem it will go away eventually.  As a dean of discipline, I have dealt with this problem many times.  Even when the parents are presented with irrefutable proof of their children’s addiction, they still search for explanations to evade the problem.

            Some of the advice that I give parents when we meet in my office due to their children’s usage of drugs (or addiction to them) is the following:

            ●  Pay attention to the student’s grades.

            ●  Search your child’s room and his or her belongings to make sure he or she does not

            have possession of drugs.

            ●  Check the student’s wallet or purse to make sure he or she does not have excessive

            amounts of money you did not give him or her.

            ●  At least once or twice a year, do a drug test of your secondary school age children (or   more often if you suspect they are abusing prohibited substances).  (This can be done                    without their knowledge through your family doctor.)

●  Make sure to lock or put in a safe place all of your prescription drugs and possible inhalants. 

Finally, as parents we must have sincere conversations with our children about the topic

of drugs and let them know we are there to help if they have already experimented with them.  Also, we must let them know that we care about them and are very interested in both their physical and emotional well-being.

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