At least six middle-school kids in St. Paul, Minnesota appear to have taken meth from a 14-year-old classmate on Tuesday. Story here.
One of the students complained of “feeling out of sorts” and ultimately the students were all sent to the hospital. The drug was apparently handed out in the school cafeteria, and although initial reports indicated that some of the children may have thought the drug was candy, it now appears that they all knew what they were eating.
The story raises obvious concerns about the availability of illegal drugs in schools and the relative effectiveness of drug education, but I think it also raises questions about drug policy.
Carol Falkowski, chemical health director at the Minnesota Department of Human Services is quoted in the article saying, “We know we live in a world where drugs and alcohol are probably more accessible to students than ever before. We also know the age of first drug use has been generally declining. The average age of first marijuana use is about 13 and first alcohol use about 14.”
“The average age of first marijuana use is about 13 and first alcohol use about 14.”
Marijuana before alcohol. Average age of first use is 13.
I’m not terribly surprised by this; I’ve long suspected (based on anecdotal evidence) that marijuana was easier for children to get than alcohol, but I am surprised to hear what amounts to an admission of that fact come from a government official.
It seems clear that we’re losing the drug war and losing badly. It also seems clear that we’re not effectively educating our children about drugs. Beyond the fact that some kids in St. Paul took meth (the principal at the school has a great quote: “We deal with middle-level kids. They make bad decisions sometimes.”), the fact that the kids ate the meth raises interesting questions.
Most addicts and regular users will smoke or inhale meth — the high is faster and more intense as the drug enters the blood stream quicker; they don’t eat it. The fact that the kids ate the meth could indicate that they didn’t know enough about the drug to know how it was “supposed” to be used (although it could also mean that they didn’t have a lighter). If the kids ate the meth because they didn’t really know much about the drug, then we’ve got a pretty tough problem. Do we teach our kids enough about drugs that when they get the opportunity they’ll really know how to abuse the drug? Or do we hope that in their ignorance they’ll go ahead and try it, but misuse it and dampen the potential harm?
Ignorance always seems the riskier option to me; not knowing will eventually get you in much worse trouble than knowing.
Several long-term analysis studies done on various drug education programs have shown that these school-based programs (D.A.R.E. in particular) are not statistically effective. (See here, here, here, here, here, here)
The studies show that while programs like D.A.R.E. have a limited positive short-term effects, they are not effective in curtailing drug use long-term. Children who take D.A.R.E. are just as likely to use or abuse drugs as children who have not gone through the D.A.R.E. program. At the very least, these studies conclude that the most common and popular drug education program in the country is not as effective as alternative programs.
So what should we do? Give up? Put meth vending machines in the middle school cafeterias? Of course not.
But if we want to start correcting the problem, we need to stop pretending that useless educational programs do anything other than salve our conscience. And we need to recognize that if children can get marijuana more easily than they can get alcohol, the drug war has been a complete and utter failure.
It’s long past time for a rational drug policy and rational drug education in America, but I’m afraid that we’ll get neither in the near future. In the meantime, talk to your kids. Be honest with them.
I’ve seen first-hand the effects of drug abuse. I’ve seen a people succumb to meth. I’ve seen friends and loved ones destroyed by alcohol. I’ve seen houses lost to cocaine, and I’ve seen people laugh at some pretty silly things while high on pot. I’ve also seen people lose their jobs while they sat on the couch, lost in a hazy miasma of bong-passing. I’ve been robbed by crack-heads and gone searching through a roommate’s stuff to find the pipe before the police showed up. I smoked cigarettes for 19 years.
But I hate pot. I’ve never done coke or smack or crack or meth or uppers or downers or rush or X. I drink moderately (in fact, my doctor keeps telling me that I need to drink ~more~ red wine).
When my kids ask me about drugs, I tell them what I know. I tell them what I’ve seen. I tell them who I’ve lost. I also tell them the truth.
I don’t want them growing up afraid of drugs, or enthralled by a mystery. I want them to grow up knowing. I want them to know that drugs are dangerous and that stupidity is deadly.