When I was in high school we had a program called ‘Every 7 Minutes.’ Every 7 minutes a classmate would be asked to leave campus for the day. It was to signify that every 7 minutes a person dies as a result of drunk driving. A car was brought in that was totaled as a result of drunk driving. Towards the end of school the campus was desolate. It was as if the campus turned into an old west town at high noon. Schools seem to be very comfortable discussing the dangers of drunk driving but what about those who don’t drink? What about the ones who still drive under the influence of prescription drugs, heroin, methamphetamine? Are schools ready to finally admit that this, too, is a big problem with students?

It seems that every couple of weeks I read an article about a student who has overdosed, mostly on heroin, which, as it has been said numerous times in other articles and research, is a growing problem with the student population.

Are kids really safe?

In the article, some school official always says that their school is a “safe place” for students. This is almost never stated if a student dies as a result of drinking and driving. In this case, the safety of a school’s campus is not considered. It is time for school districts to acknowledge that there is an ever growing problem with substances other than drinking and driving, without having to worry about their school being viewed as “safe.”

Please do not get me wrong. I think drinking and driving as a youth is a terrible thing and talking about it can be a great intervention, but driving under the influence of other substances is just as dangerous.

In school, it was talked about if you were going to drink that you should designate a driver or call your parents. With the stigma attached to drug use it seems that by mentioning drugs in the same sentence would be an act of condoning the behavior.

Are we condoning drinking for our youth? No. We are simply saying that if you were to drink that there are things that can be done to ensure your safety.

Could this harm reduction rhetoric also be applied to using drugs? I think so. With the usage of drugs other than alcohol becoming more and more prevalent, I think it is time to do so. Admitting that there are drugs in the schools needs to stop being associated with how safe the school is. Bringing awareness to the faculty, as well as the parents, could be beneficial in multiple ways.

What to do?

For starters, it can be a catalyst for parents to start engaging in conversations with their children about using drugs, just as there have been conversations about drinking.

Secondly, it could lower the stigma drug abuse carries, decreasing the shame that one experiences when admitting they have a problem. Pamphlets which go over the signs and symptoms of being an alcoholic are also given to students. Granted, some are outdated, but they give the students an awareness of troubling behavior. Providing handouts on the criteria of abusing or being dependent on drugs has the ability to bring more awareness to the problem.

The Wrong Perception

The one thing that I continue to hear at the treatment center I work for is that the client consistently feels they are alone in their use - that no one understands the feelings and actions they have experienced either prior to or as a result of their use. If a dialogue can be established about the prevalence of drugs within the school system, it can show others that there are people out there that know how they are feeling – because they’ve been there.

Students can typically admit that they drink because a lot of others drink yet, if they admit they think they have a problem with drugs, they become a criminal.

Isn’t it illegal to be under the influence of alcohol prior to reaching legal age? Why is there this perception that it is okay to talk about underage drinking versus using drugs, when both are illegal?

I feel that if we talk about one, we should feel comfortable enough to talk about the other.

This is a long time coming. Schools did not begin mention drunk driving to students overnight. It took many accidents and deaths for people to consider talking about it. If we begin to take these small steps towards acknowledging drug use, we may be able to help students before their addiction gets out of control and whose lives are in shambles as a result of their drug use.

When it comes to alcohol and drug use, do we really want to continue to acknowledge one without considering the other?