Have American high schools become “marijuana marts” and “pill palaces”? Joseph Califano, chairman of Columbia University’s Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) thinks so. Disturbing data from CASA’s most recent “back-to-school” report card – the 2007 National Survey of American Attitudes on Substance Abuse XII: Teens and Parents – support his shocking (and alliterative) contention.
Based on CASA’s findings, the notion of drug-free high (and middle) schools is little more than wishful thinking. This survey of teens and parents revealed the following: 80 percent of American high school students (11 million) and 44 percent of middle school students (five million) have “personally witnessed illegal drug use, illegal drug dealing, illegal drug possession, students drunk and/or students high on the grounds of their school.”
For many students, drug exposure is a regular fixture in their academic lives: 31 percent of high school students and nine percent of middle schoolers see drug-related activities at school on a weekly basis.
In spite of this, parental apathy and pessimism are abundant. According to CASA, 59 percent of parents whose children attend “drug-infested” schools believe the goal of making their child’s school drug-free is unrealistic; such parental passivity puts kids at greater risk for substance abuse. Not surprisingly, CASA found that adolescents are also much likelier to smoke, drink and use drugs if their parents think they will. Children, it seems, live up to our expectations.
The most recent data available from North Carolina’s Department of Public Instruction show drugs are infiltrating schools here as well. Between 2004-05 and 2005-06, incidences involving possession of a controlled substance in violation of the law increased 10.9 percent. Marijuana use is particularly rampant: a report released this spring by the Office of National Drug Control Policy found that 40 percent of North Carolina’s high school students have tried marijuana at least once; close to 11 percent of ninth graders have tried marijuana before the tender age of 13.
What can we do to take back our schools, and with them, our kids? The Bush Administration wants random drug testing on K-12 school campuses. This policy push is quite controversial, but a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court decision paved the way for middle and high schools to conduct random drug tests of students involved in extracurricular activities.
Voluntary, non-punitive drug testing is gaining in popularity. Winston-Salem/Forsyth County’s drug-testing program is widely touted as a success story. Feedback on the efficacy of random drug testing is promising; however, some parents continue to voice concerns that such tests invade privacy and undermine parental authority.
Debate over the merits of student drug testing is likely to continue. But wherever we end up, school officials still have a moral and legal obligation to enforce drug-free school policies.
Parents aren’t off the hook either. The Partnership for a Drug-Free America estimates that only 12 percent of parents talk to their kids frequently about drugs. This is astonishing given the well-documented and unparalleled influence of parents on a child’s decision to forgo drug use. Family cohesion, after all, can be shored up by the simplest of rituals: even regular dinners together have been shown to reduce the risk of adolescent substance abuse.
Here’s the bottom line: when it comes to our nation’s school-based drug crisis, it’s well past midnight. CASA’s study is sounding the alarm. Is anybody listening?
Kristen Blair is a fellow at the North Carolina Education Alliance