Drugs In High School: Who Do We Think We’re Kidding?

I wonder whether people realize how bad the drug problem is in the schools. Sure, we all know drugs are there, but we get used to things, don’t think about them. It’s easy not to see the magnitude of the problem.

Maybe you think drugs means marijuana. I got news.

Anything you have ever heard of is available in your kid’s high school. Does that sound extreme? OK, I’ll be cautious. Unless your child goes to an unusual school, almost any drug of abuse most people have heard of is available. That statement I’ll stick with. Are you a fossil who remembers the Sixties? Kids today know as much about drugs, and have as much access, as you did. And they know this stuff in the tenth grade.

Some years back I began looking at drugs in Arlington’s schools. I talked to cops and, more importantly, to a few kids I could trust. I asked, what drugs can kids get-I mean, easily get-in school today? Answer: Crystal meth, acid, shrooms, nitrous, crack, powder, any inhalant known to man, bud, and, with perhaps a little effort, heroin. Don’t forget Ritalin, a major drug of abuse. The dealers often are kids in the schools.

It isn’t a racial problem. In Arlington, Yorktown High, home of shiny white kids in Volvos, is noted for being awash in drugs. Kids take a hit of something in the john, and go to class stoned. Not all of them, obviously, but it isn’t unusual. I don’t know whether the teachers know this. I don’t think they want to know it.

I talked the other day with Detective Mark Stone, of the Major Narcotics Branch of the Metropolitan Police. He’s a savvy cop who specializes in kids and drugs, and lectures at schools and universities. Sometimes he takes a case with samples to show kids what the various drugs look like.

He said, “In poor schools, [in DC] kids often don’t know what MDMA is. (Methyldioxymethamphetamine, called Ecstasy on the street.) At rich schools, kids raise their hands and ask why I don’t have it on display.”

They know what it looks like.

Recently I wrote a column about Ritalin, used to drug kids with Attention Deficit Disorder, a possibly existent condition involving fidgeting and disruptive behavior. Stone says of abuse of Ritalin, “It’s extreme. Probably among teens in DC it’s neck and neck with marijuana as a drug of abuse. Some of it comes from ADD. Kids try to get two prescriptions, and sell one. College kids use it for studying.”

“Kids go to raves,” he says, “and become polydrug abusers. They take speed, then want heroin to get back down, go too far, want cocaine to come back up.

“Some are weekenders. Others get dependent, take drugs during the week and go to class.”

The economic mechanics are interesting. For example, Stone said, “Heroin is becoming popular with kids now. Used to be, heroin was so impure that you had to inject it. Most kids won’t go near a needle. Now the purity is so high that you can smoke heroin. This lets it compete with crack. Prices are down too. So kids are using it.

“Then, once they’re addicted, they may not have smokable heroin, so they use a needle after all. And they come down with HIV.”

Next to the schools, shopping malls are probably the best source of drugs in suburbia. So kids say, anyway. Parents often have no clue what goes on in malls. The kids want to go hang out with their friends, and what’s wrong with that? In Arlington, Courthouse was notorious, and probably still is. A kid wants acid? He goes to the mall and asks who has some. Liquid? Blotter? Price? Hey, I can it cheaper from so and so. And so on.

Getting busted for marijuana is a joke with lots of kids. They get grounded for a while, and pee-tested. There are sites on the Web, lots of them, telling how to fake a urine test. (E.g., a condom full of someone else’s urine tied to your leg when you go to be tested.) They know how long each drug stays in the system. (Again, useful information available on the Web.) While they’re grounded they do drugs that don’t show on tests (inhalants and, under most circumstances, acid).

For practical purposes, drugs in high school are not controlled. They’re pervasive. Short of shooting dealers on sight, there’s nothing we can do about it. So we look the other way.

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