Substance Abuse

A fourth problem area that concerns educators, parents, law enforcement officials, legislators, and the public at large is the use and trafficking of drugs and alcohol in America's schools.

Recent survey by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. A recent, comprehensive national survey of drug abuse in America was released August 6, 1997, by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Based on a 1996 representative sample of the U.S. population ages 12 and older, including people who live in households and group quarters such as dormitories and homeless shelters, the report pictured "the bright and the dark side of drug use by adolescents." For the first time since 1992, illicit drug use by U.S. adolescents declined.29

The survey includes information on drug use, specifically revealing information on use of heroin, hallucinogens, alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, and cocaine and offering population breakdowns featuring youth ages 12 to 17 and 18 to 26.

While the rate of drug use among youth ages 12 to 17 fell from 10.9 percent in 1995 to 9.0 percent in 1996,30 the survey indicated that in this age bracket, there was more first-time heroin use, increased use of hallucinogens, fewer teens who believed cocaine is harmful, and little change in cigarette smoking.31 An estimated 62 million Americans were found to smoke, including 4.1 million adolescents ages 12 to 17. Smokers in this age bracket were found to be about 9 times as likely to use illicit drugs and 16 times as likely to drink heavily as nonsmoking youth.32

Annual survey by the University of Michigan. The University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research conducts an annual survey that tracks the use of alcohol, tobacco, and illicit drugs by 8th, 10th, and 12th graders in public and private schools in the continental United States. The Monitoring the Future Study, also known as the National High School Senior Survey, is funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The 1997 survey results reveal a leveling off of most drug use following the steady rise in use since the beginning of the decade. Some survey results are discussed in more detail below.33

Bullet Seniors. Of the approximately 16,000 seniors surveyed, 54 percent had used an illicit drug at least once in their lifetimes; more than one-fourth had used an illicit drug within the 30 days preceding their completion of the survey; one-eighth smoked half a pack of cigarettes or more daily; and more than half had used alcoholic beverages within the 30 days preceding completion of the survey.
Bullet Sophomores. Of the approximately 16,000 sophomores surveyed, 47 percent had used an illicit drug at least once; 23 percent had used an illicit drug within the 30 days preceding completion of the survey; almost 9 percent smoked half a pack of cigarettes or more daily; and 40 percent had used alcoholic beverages within the 30 days preceding completion of the survey.
Bullet Eighth graders. Of the approximately 19,000 eighth graders surveyed, 29 percent had used an illicit drug at least once; nearly 13 percent had used an illicit drug within the 30 days preceding the survey; 3.5 percent smoked half a pack of cigarettes or more daily; and 24.5 percent had used alcoholic beverages within the 30 days preceding the survey.

Not only are adults disturbed by this national epidemic, but students are also concerned. Regarding factors that contribute to violence against teens, three in five teens blamed drugs, according to a study sponsored by the National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC), the National Institute for Citizen Education in the Law (NICEL), and OJJDP.34 In the 1996 Twenty-Seventh Annual Survey of High Achievers, almost one-half of the responding students stated that drug dealing occurred at their schools and in American society, 20 percent blamed drugs for the level of violence in their schools, and one in three believed drugs and alcohol were the most serious problems facing their high schools, a percentage that had more than doubled since the previous year's survey.35

Perhaps one of the main reasons so many students report using alcohol and other drugs is their availability. Researchers for NCPC and NICEL interviewed 2,023 students in public, private, and parochial schools in grades 7 through 12 during the fall of 1995. Twenty-nine percent said that it was "very easy" to get illegal drugs in their neighborhoods and another 31 percent said that it was "somewhat easy or not very hard."36

Why do students regard alcohol and other drug use as one of the leading causes of violence on their campuses, and why does substance abuse trigger fear? Many students fear for the lives of their friends who have turned to alcohol and other drugs to cope with the problems, stress, or boredom they experience in their daily lives. Often it is violence -- including extortion, theft, prostitution, or drug dealing -- that supports their habitual substance abuse. Gangs who fight over their territorial rights to sell drugs on the street or on campus also engender fear. With the encroachment of the drug subculture onto school campuses, many young people fear that they may succumb to peer pressure and end up addicted to drugs, thereby subjecting themselves to physical, mental, and emotional harm; risking the loss of opportunities to succeed; and compromising their long-held goals.

Strategies used to counter the influence of drugs and drug users among students include the following:

Bullet Declaring specified areas surrounding schools to be Drug-Free School Zones.
Bullet Instituting educational programs at all school levels that teach students to resist drugs, for example, the Life Skills Training Program,37 which teaches drug resistance, self-management, and general social skills; Project STAR,38 which includes the involvement of the entire community, mass media efforts, and health policy change; and Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.),39 which is currently taught in many elementary and middle schools.
Bullet Developing a critical thinking curriculum, such as AdSmarts,40 designed to teach students to examine and analyze the media's influence on consumption.
Bullet Establishing cooperative programs such as the Adolescent Social Action Program (ASAP), in which trained college students team with middle and high school student volunteers; they visit hospitals and detention centers to learn about individuals' life experiences that led to substance abuse.
Bullet Involving parents in learning about substance abuse through organizations such as the Parents Association to Neutralize Drug and Alcohol Abuse, Inc. (PANDAA).41
Bullet Introducing TREND,42 a national student-led organization begun at the 1987 National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, which encourages youth to become involved in their communities and schools and take a leadership role in advocating a drug-free lifestyle.

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Combating Fear and Restoring Safety in Schools Juvenile Justice Bulletin   ·  April 1998