Study: Schools Failing On Drugs

kids in front of school, Mike Riera letters, 101700
Nine and a half million high school students - 60 percent - and nearly five million middle schools students - 30 percent - will attend a school this fall at which drugs are sold, used or kept, according to a national organization that fights drug abuse.

The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University released a report Wednesday, detailing drug use and availability among teens. The 117-page report, Malignant Neglect: Substance Abuse and America's Schools, is the result of six years of analysis, surveys and field investigations including one hundred focus groups with students, teachers, parents and school administrators in public, private and parochial schools across the country.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that, by the time students complete high school, 47 percent have smoked marijuana, 24 percent have used another illicit drug and 81 percent have drunk alcohol. They also estimate that 70 percent have smoked cigarettes.

The percentage of teen-agers who say there are drugs on campus has actually dropped since 1998, said Joseph Califano, a former Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, who heads the group.

But Califano said the high number of schools in which drugs are present is still unacceptable.

"Drugs and alcohol have infested our schools and threaten our children and their ability to learn and develop their talents," he said. "Parents raise hell and refuse to send their kids to classrooms infested with asbestos. Yet every day they ship their children off to schools riddled with illegal drugs. When parents feel as strongly about drugs in our schools as they do about asbestos, we will have drug-free schools."

Califano said national efforts to keep schools drug-free have failed, primarily because drug-prevention lessons don't address factors such as parental engagement, parental substance abuse, depression, anxiety, learning disabilities, low self-esteem, that lead students to experiment with drugs. Anti-drug programs abound, he said, but many aren't based on sound science and few are compatible with others.

He said zero-tolerance policies, by which students caught with drugs are expelled or suspended from school, are a double-edged sword, since they send a clear no-use message but can also encourage parents and friends of drug users to keep quiet out of fear the user will be punished severely. Moreover, too few schools with such policies work with the troubled students to get them into treatment; even fewer offer the hope of return to school to help motivate them to enter and complete treatment.

The report's most troubling indictment is that the widespread availability of drugs in schools is due to malignant neglect of parents, teachers, administrators, communities and students themselves. The problem is aggravated by persistent finger pointing and denial: parents blame schools; teachers blame parents; schools administrators cite a lack of commuity support; community members claim that the school officials are indifferent; and students blame their peers.

"It is time for each of us to stop looking out the window and start looking in the mirror," Califano said.

He said more money should be spent on school counselors, teacher training and treatment for drug-using students, and that parents should be encouraged to play a more active role in their children's schools.

"Without the active engagement of parents, students, teachers, principals and community members in broad efforts to prevent substance use, curriculum programs alone are little more than 'feel good' Band-Aids on the problems of student substance and abuse," said Califano.

Since 1996, the group's annual survey has consistently shown that only about one-third of 17-year-olds would report a drug user or seller at school.

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