Drugs in our schools Part I

“Do you have drugs in your school?” This is the most repeated question I get when I am meeting with parents of prospective students. If the parent was not so earnest I would be tempted to act shocked. It would be easy to trot out the catch-all phrase that some schools have adopted and say smugly, “we have a zero tolerance policy for drugs in this school”.

The sad truth is that there is not a high school in Canada that can honestly say that all their students are drug-free. From the very expensive private schools to the inner city alternative schools there are students who come to school under the influence of some mind-altering substance. In fact, a longitudinal study (Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey) that spanned the years from 1977 to 2009 surveyed Ontario students. It found that 23% of high school students bought, were offered or given illegal drugs at school. During that same timeframe Stats Canada reported that 60% of illegal drug users were between the ages of 15 and 24. For high school students, marijuana continues to be the drug of choice for taking the edge off of math class. And for each student who is sitting in class stoned from his cannabis-laced lunch, there is another who, although he did not inhale as recently as his peer, still has traces of drugs flowing in his veins causing him to either crave or be lethargic.

Having conducted my own non-scientific study – I asked my students – I have come up with six reasons why young people use illegal drugs:

Boredom: having experienced almost everything vicariously through the internet there is nothing interesting any teacher can possibly teach. No school classroom can possibly compete with the action packed video games that are now available. To tune out, as the French teacher drones on and on, some students opt for a drug-induced time out.

Rebellion: this reason is as old as any drug. Many young people need to test the boundaries of authority. Occasionally they choose to step beyond the legal framework that is agreed upon by society. Drugs are illegal and feel so anti-establishment that using them can give a young person a sense of empowerment.

Peer-pressure: at an age where most young people are vulnerable to the variety of voices that beckon them, the loudest and most enticing is the voice of their peers. It calls them to be part of a group. It gives them a strong sense of belonging and identity. With drugs, they are invited to participate in a secret ritual.

Curiosity: all young people are innately curious. Although they often project that they know everything, they intuitively know that there is so much more to learn. With schools promoting the value of experiential learning, young people choose to add experimenting with drugs to their ‘must do’ list.

Escapism: many young people are under the impression that they live painful existences – some do. With the foundation of the traditional family structure cracking, with the daily news-flashes that threaten their lives with environmental and social calamities, and with the knowledge that the world’s economic future is in a free-fall, some young people choose to temporarily rise above it all with the assistance of an illegal substance.

Slow suicide: the most sinister reason for drug use is that some young people feel trapped, that there is no future and that there is no hope. Drugs slowly and subconsciously delete years from the ends of their lives.

Next week part II: solutions to teen drug use

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