Opinion: Teens, drug abuse, and the importance of drug education

Kathryn James, Staff Writer

One of the last texts I received from an incredible friend was a complaint about his absent father who had shown up at his home out of the blue. Shortly after the cops came to resolve the issue, Jay texted to let me know that he was headed out to a party: his last party. A barn party. Various pills were mixed and popped throughout the night and the drinks kept coming.

Jay frequented parties, and such frivolities were not uncommon among his classmates either. But Jay wasn’t like his classmates; he could barely function without the aid of drugs. To put it simply, Jay had an addiction that he couldn’t break, and as such, it was his addiction that broke him.

Although teen drug use is a serious issue, the problem is not simply street drugs or alcohol, but prescription medication as well.

The Chronicle, a New York newspaper, states that nearly 90 percent of prescription drug addictions start in teenage years, and more than 70 percent of teens admit that is isn’t hard to get prescription drugs from their parents’ medicine cabinets.

It is commonly believed, among both teenagers and adults, that prescribed medications are safer drugs to use than those found on the street. They argue that since the medications from the pharmacy come in pill form, as opposed to liquid or powder, they are safer. But they aren’t.

In an article produced by The Daily Beast, it states that, “in the U.S. there are 46 deaths from a prescription overdose per day. Opioid pain relievers were involved in 16,917 overdose deaths in 2011.”

In an article produced by American Addiction Centers, staff writers explain that, “Alcohol and prescription painkillers like hydrocodone, oxycodone, and morphine are particularly deadly when individuals mix them. This type of overdose has been on the rise due to an increase in opioid drug addictions in the US in the past few decades… even if a person takes a painkiller as prescribed and drinks a small amount of alcohol, the drugs can enhance each other’s effects, leading to dangerous intoxication and possible overdose.”

And that’s exactly what happened to Jay. With prescription opioids in his system, and more than three times the legal blood alcohol content, Jay’s body couldn’t take the overstimulation.

The problem at hand is not simply the increase of use in street drugs such as crack, cocaine, ecstasy, tik, and meth, but also prescription drugs like fentanyl, hydrocodone, and oxycodone.

In August this year, the National Center for Health Statistics released that the rate of teen drug overdose deaths in the United States, from both street drugs and prescription medication, “climbed 19% from 2014 to 2015, from 3.1 deaths per 100,000 teens to 3.7 per 100,000.”

Jay contributed to those statistics when he overdosed on prescription opioids in 2014.

For those who don’t die from drug overdoses, the effects of drug use are apparent in many aspects of their lives. When people use drugs during their teen years, their brains are still in the developmental stages, and the use of drugs and alcohol have been proven to hinder proper mental development.

According to CASA, The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, “The earlier an individual starts smoking, drinking or using other drugs, the greater the likelihood of developing addiction.”

No drug should be considered a safe drug. Jay’s addiction started with casual, intermittent smoking of weed and tobacco. From there, he developed a dependency on harder drugs and alcohol. It happened gradually, and over the course of a few years, but Jay eventually became completely addicted to drugs. It is undeniable that drug use can easily turn into drug abuse.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), “In 2012, 259 million prescriptions were written for opioids, which is more than enough to give every American adult their own bottle of pills.” With this many opioids in circulation, what can we possibly do to combat the opioid epidemic in this country?

Education is the key to prevention, and it needs to start early. Middle schools and high schools alike should have ongoing and continuous drug education classes. Programs like D.A.R.E are informative and somewhat impactful, but pledging to not do drugs in elementary school doesn’t necessarily influence our decisions later down the line. In order for drug education curricula like D.A.R.E to have more success in preventing teen drug use, they need to consistently be teaching students on a yearly basis.

Jay’s death was tragic, not simply because he was young, or because he died a slow and painful death, but also because his death could have been avoided. It is my firm belief that Jay, and other drug addicted teens who have died, would have benefitted from drug education programs focusing on prevention.

It is imperative that schools, including Seabury Hall, implement yearly drug education programs in order to protect their students.