Marijuana is now the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States, and is a gateway to drug addiction and substance abuse for many students. According to Pickering, PHD (2020) “It is one of the few substances that hasn’t declined in use by teens recently. In fact, marijuana has now surpassed traditional cigarettes in middle school smoking rates” Imagine it is the weekend following a stressful week of 8th grade consisting of tests,homework, and extracurriculars. Your mom picks you up from school and you are excited for the weekend. You are part of the reported 6.8%, that is preparing to get high using marijuana before the age of 13. Admission to a rated-R movie is still prohibited, so you decide to attempt to roll up a joint instead, you’ve only heard good things from the high schoolers and you honestly don’t know anything about it. Curiosity reigns as you take your first hit. However, as time progresses you continue to smoke, just for fun of course, and in the blink of an eye you are a senior in high school. Just like your height has grown over the years, so has the percentage of users around you. You are now part of the 22% of seniors that have reportedly used marijuna. Even better you, contribute to the 9% that use it everyday. You started young because you didn’t know, and now you can’t stop even though you know better. This is not a hypothetical situation, and you are not a character. You are a close childhood friend of mine, and this is a sequence of events I witnessed.
According to data from the National Vital Statistics system a study in 2018 displayed that there were 67,367 drug overdose deaths in the United States. 4,633 of those are people between the ages of 15-24. It has been proven that users usually recall beginning to experiment with drugs around the age of 12 or 13. This is the equivalent of 6th or 7th grade. These are the prime years of curiosity and peer pressure. The classic saying, “curiosity killed the cat” is unfortunately true for many drug users. In the novel (based off of a true story), “Stay Close: A Mother’s Story of Her Son’s Addiction”,by Libby Cataldi, Libby speaks with her son Jeremy about drug addiction and he tells her “I didn’t know drugs were bad; I just didn’t know. I was naive…” This is where I believe the issue of drug abuse among students stems from. It is one thing to choose to do drugs, knowing the effects that they will have on your body. However, it is a much more complicated issue if someone, usually a young person, is unaware of the effects of drugs because they were never exposed to that information. Leaving drug abuse education to be taught in high school is a disservice to the students. It is impossible to predict how quickly addiction will develop in an individual, but it can develop as early as within the first few times using a substance such as drugs. This is a problem because if students are not taught about the risks and effects of use at a young age, there is a chance they will try drugs unknowing of the consequences, and potentially develop an addiction before they even have the opportunity to learn about the negative effects of the drug they have been cluelessly using.
This issue should gain attention because drug use, especially in students, has extremely negative effects on the physical and mental well-being of the user. Physically addiction is a major risk, but there are mental risks as well. While focusing on drug use in students, academics
play a large role and are usually one of the first things to show signs of drug abuse.
Studies show that marijuana, for example, affects your attention, memory, and ability to learn. Its effects can last for days or weeks after the drug wears off. So, if you are smoking marijuana daily, you are not functioning at your best.(2013)
Some believe that marijuana usage will actually enhance focus and productivity, however these effects are actually side effects of addiction and not the substance itself. The same study showed that “students who smoke marijuana tend to get lower grades and are more likely to drop out of high school.”(2013) It later discusses the discovery that excessive use of marijuana in teen years can lead to a decrease in one’s IQ up to 8 points. You can compare this to the IQ point decrease of 14 points after suffering a severe brain injury that shows up on a CT scan, such as falls or incidents involving motor vehicles. (2012) That is only a 4 point difference in IQ point loss between severe brain injury and consistent drug use. This information appears to be a great advocate to stay away from drugs, but the underlying issue remains. A lot of students are not taught this information before their first run-in with drugs. Beyond personal ratifications, drug abuse in students not only affects their bodies and grades, but also places a financial strain on their life. Their guardian and school will both suffer from the financial effects of drug abuse. If the user is a minor, it is legally the guardian’s responsibility to pay for needed hospital and treatment bills. As for schools, their revenue comes from the attendance and performance of the students enrolled. Truancy, repeated absences, has been proven to be related to drug use by two recent studies. Three more studies that were conducted around the same time also support the claim that there is a relationship between truancy aligning with substance abuse in students. When a student does not show up for class, the school loses money. If a student is consistently missing class this action causes a constant decrease in funding for the school. The physical, mental, and financial burden that is placed on the lives of drug abusers and their families is why it is important to educate students at a young enough age, before drugs become more available to them. The problem is that there should be more of a focus on advocating prevention, not implementing an intervention.
The solution is to get ahead. Schools need to begin educating students about the risk of drugs, before students reach the age that drug use usually begins. The action that should be taken is implementing mandatory drug prevention programs in all schools, enforcing them weekly, and starting them in fifth or sixth grade, rather than in high school. The solution is fairly simple for most schools, as they already have a program funded and implemented. The major change for these school districts would be to begin the programs at a younger age, for instance elementary school. An example of one program is called Too Good for Drugs. It focuses on ages 9 through 13 and is held once a week. It focuses on goal setting, confidence-building, and decision-making skills as well as educates students about the risks of using drugs. This program is a perfect example of the solution I am proposing as it covers and transforms the three things in which current programs need change. By focusing on confidence-building and combating peer pressure it is eliminating the curiosity of “ trying something new” just because others are. Second, by starting the program at age 9, students are learning about common drugs and how harmful they are a full three years before most people are exposed for the first time. Finally, by implementing a program that occurs once a week it is a constant reminder to students about the effects of drug use. The consistency of meeting once a week has scientifically proven to be more effective when learning new skills or information. According to the article The Science Behind How We Learn Things, Thorin Klosowki says,
“Every time you learn something new, your brain changes in a pretty substantial way…Essentially, the more adept you become at a skill, the less work your brain has to do. Over time, a skill becomes automatic and you don’t need to think about what you’re doing. This is because your brain is actually strengthening itself over time as you learn that skill.” (2013)
Teaching students how to avoid peer pressure and make good decisions, then enabling them to have a few years to practice before they are more likely to find themselves in a real situation is precisely why there should be emphasis on teaching drug prevention in elementary school. Even though this technique is proven to be more effective, many educators and students may argue that there is no time in the school day to fit in a lesson such as this. I firmly disagree with this statement because most schools have a “quiet reading” or “independent learning time” designated to one time-frame during the school day, everyday. If this is obtainable, schools should simply use a portion of this time once a week on drug abuse prevention. This is when an educator must ask themselves if the safety of their students and their futures are worth 30 minutes out of the school day, once a week, in which case most would agree that it is.
The most important and common rebuttal to this proposal of implementing these programs is do they actually work? In simplified terms, yes, but there is more to analyze than what meets the eye. A manuscript by C. Hendricks Brown, PHD, explains that yes these programs are beneficial.
“We found a modest but consistent beneficial impact of drug prevention programs on later use as well as level of use. Regarding later drug use, the largest impact was on those who were not using at baseline and those exposed to an interactive program; the results were much larger for marijuana and other drugs” (Brown, PHD, 2009)
Furthermore, Brown adds to the idea of starting the programs at a younger age by explaining that it is most beneficial for those who are not currently using drugs. This continues to prove the idea that by starting education programs before kids begin using, then the programs themselves will be even more successful in decreasing the number of students struggling with drug abuse.
Another question one may ask is “where will the funding for this come from, and is it worth it?”. In a country that is run upon an economic agenda it would be naive and irresponsible to ignore that everything has a price tag. When identifying the cost benefit for providing programs like “Too Good for Drugs” it is clear that the program is worth implementing. If you take a look at the chart below you will see the monetary and overall costs (billions) of different substances.
Substance Abuse Prevention Dollars and Cents: A Cost-Benefit Analysis
High, Medium, and Low EstimaSubstance Abuse Prevention Dollars and Cents: A Cost-Benefit Analysis
High, Medium, and Low Estimates of Potential Lifetime Monetary and Total Cost Savings to Society From Implementing Effective Nationwide School-Based Prevention Programming in 2002 for Youth Ages 12–14, by Type of Substance (in billions)11
tes of Potential Lifetime Monetary and Total Cost Savings to Society From Implementing Effective Nationwide School-Based Prevention Programming in 2002 for Youth Ages 12–14, by Type of Substance (in billions)11
The overall cost for marjuana is a total of 0.6 billion dollars saved. This is including hospital bills, rehab treatments, counciling, bail, etc. In this sense, it is morally and financially responsible to implement drug prevention programs in schools, being that it actually saves money in the future.
It is important to remember that that addiction will continue to exist, even with programs to help. Though it is unfortunate to accept addiction, you must not rule out programs for the reason that drug use will still exist even while enrolled. The reality is, there will always be some addicts, programs or not.
The following 911 call occured on January 2nd, 2015.
Dispatcher: “911 What’s your emergency?”
Nikki: “I need someone at my apartment. My son has overdosed.”
Dispatcher: “I can’t understand what you are saying. Is he breathing?”
Dispatcher: “See if he is breathing.”
Nikki: “Is he breathing, Mark? He’s not breathing. He’s not breathing. He’s not breathing.”
Dispatcher: “Stay on the line with me. Just stay on the line. Do not hang up.”
Nikki: “Brendan please. Help me Jesus. Please.”
Friend: “He’s overdosed. I think he may be gone.”
Dispatcher: “Is anyone attempting CPR? Does anyone want to attempt CPR?
Friend: “No. He’s cold. He’s stiff.”
(N.Strunck, personal communication, January 2nd, 2015)
Shortly after the call Brendan Strunck passed away at the age of 24 due to an overdose. His mother later revealed that he began using drugs at age 13. Brendan and his family suffered great loss due to drug use, and it is impossible to save everyone. However, if a program could save even one life a year, the 911 call shown above may have never existed and Brendan would still be with his mother.
Drug abuse in young teens has always been a topic of concern, but with the increase in marijuana use beginning younger and younger it is finally time for a real solution. Schools, teachers, and communities must face the issue and implement drug prevention programs one day a week, starting in elementary school. It is beneficial in regards to the physical, mental, and financial stability of the students and their families. Science supports the programs, so it is only reasonable that schools do too. 30 minutes a week could save 30 lives.
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