Friday, March 11, 2016
The Troubling Trend of Teens Using Prescription Drugs for Fun
As soon as he walked into the room, I knew he was high. The staggering steps, slurred speech, and the slide of his arms over the side of the desktop as his head found its resting place were all the signs I needed. But the words of the other freshman boys around him confirmed it for me.
"You all right, man?" one of the boys asked, slapping Jake* on the shoulder. "I don't know," said another laughing boy. "Doesn't look to me like Jake's walking too good." The laughing continued as all the boys watched him. "I think Jake might need some help," said a third who was so amused by the whole scene that he gasped for air.
I tried to keep the rest of the classroom calm. After all, there were twenty other students there. Some of them quietly sat at their desks and looked at their phones, others were already starting to work, and some were observing the drama as it unfolded.
Surreptitiously, I sent for help, and when an assistant principal arrived in my classroom to remove Jake, the boys who had been laughing and making remarks suddenly seemed shocked into silence. The room quieted down, but I could still see some of the students asking each other what had happened. In answer to one girl's question, a boy made a drinking motion with his hand to show how Jake had ingested whatever drug he took.
This has been a strange couple of weeks for me. Last week our school lost a student to a prescription-drug combination that resulted in an overdose. That incident started at a party where she took the initial OxyContin and drank alcohol. The doping continued once she got home where she added Xanax to the mix. She was found dead the next morning.
Then this incident. After talking with some other teachers and doing a little research, I have since learned that there is a widespread and growing problem of prescription drug abuse among teenagers. According to the National Institute of Health, prescription drug abuse is highest among youth aged 18 to 25. In 2014, the NIH reported that 5.9 percent of young adults surveyed reported non-medical use of prescription drugs. And that's only those who fessed up to it.
Where are they getting the drugs? Through their parents' medicine cabinet. Or through their friends' parents' medicine cabinet. Or they are buying it through an on-campus "dealer." In short, the drugs are easy to get. Painkillers like OxyContin, Vicodin, forms of morphine, as well as stimulants and sedatives like codeine are not just being washed down with swig of water. They are being snorted and even injected for a quicker, easier high.
And this is no longer about peer pressure. Once upon a time, parents worried their kids were being coerced or pressured into using illegally obtained substances in order to be popular, but that is no longer the case. Kids are using it because they're hanging out with other friends who have easy access to it, and they are using too, and together they can all "have a good time." It's about the element of fun, not force.
In 2014, Purdue University conducted a study in which they interviewed 618 young adults between the ages of 18 and 29 who admitted to using prescription drugs recreationally. Most of these people were frequenters of bars, clubs, and other nightlife locations, and on average they confessed to having used prescription drugs "for fun" 38 times in a 90 day period.
I have been teaching freshman for over ten years. This is the first year where I've known that some students come to class high. They do the stuff before school, between classes, or during lunch. The bathroom is apparently a popular spot for doping. The trouble is, we can't always prove it. We can't deny them bathroom breaks, and we can't follow them in there. Sometimes evidence of a high is a little ambiguous. It might manifest itself in odd behaviors, sleeping in class, or altered personality (suddenly a student becomes "the life of the classroom" when before they were an average kid). Nearly all the kids drink power-drink type beverages of all different colors and flavors. I've been told this is a common solution to mask the drug of choice. But we can't test their drinks for drugs.
Apparently, drug use within the US has escalated in the past few years, and there are now more deaths due to drug overdose than to car crashes. In response, just yesterday, the Senate passed a bill that offers more drug treatment and prevention programs to states as they attempt to combat this issue.
When I was in school, there was a huge anti-drug movement, and the schools were really pushing the "just say no" campaign headed up by Nancy Reagan. I knew of a few kids who did marijuana. I didn't, and I didn't hang out with them. Now, kids from all walks of life are using, and we seem to have gotten away from (or turned a blind eye to) the awareness of young people and drug use prevention.
The motivations of kids using drugs are different now. In a culture where we are all entertained to death, drugs are a fun pastime to kids. Prescription drugs are especially insidious because they are in the home and in the hands of kids.
It's all a little too reminiscent of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. I pray that's not where we're headed.
"If we could sniff or swallow something that would, for five or six hours each day, abolish our solitude as individuals, atone us with our fellows in a glowing exaltation of affection and make life in all its aspects seem not only worth living, but divinely beautiful and significant, and if this heavenly, world-transfiguring drug were of such a kind that we could wake up next morning with a clear head and an undamaged constitution-then, it seems to me, all our problems (and not merely the one small problem of discovering a novel pleasure) would be wholly solved and earth would become paradise." --ALDOUS HUXLEY
*Jake is not the student's real name.