High schools are said to be on the front lines of our nations war on drugs. This so-called war is older than most of the parents of today's schoolchildren. While this warrior rhetoric offers the hope of a victory, any evidence of winning is scarce.
As an educator, the previous paragraph troubles me. Why do we use the language of war to describe a social crisis and diagnosable disease? Such language implies that, like war, there will come a point in time where we have won or lost and can all go home.
Also, contending that some segments of our society: a school, a poor neighborhood, a race, or youth are somehow more responsible for this ill than the rest of us is naive and destructive. Truth and candor will get us so much farther than rhetoric.
Recent incidents at Willits High School remind me of the responsibility we all share for our children's health.
We know with certainty that two students ingested large quantities of over-the-counter cough caplets to access a drug called DXM. DXM, or dextromethorphan, is the latest in a long line of drugs promising euphoria, only to deliver dizziness, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, a racing pulse, and depression. Death can also result from cardiac arrest or liver failure.
There are more than 70 products on the shelf containing DXM - just look for DM or Tuss on the label.
On the internet, at least one website offers instructions for the abuse of the drug and the extraction of pure DXM from these legal medicines.
The few local students who fell prey to DXM experienced many of the symptoms noted above.
Though cases like this are still (gratefully) infrequent, abuse of over-the-counter medicines is a growing concern. After alcohol and marijuana, most of the top-ten abused drugs are produced as medicine.
Summoning an ambulance to campus is disruptive. A medical emergency precipitated by drug abuse is grueling.
Hearing that it is a school issue or the schools fault is disheartening.
Schools do not manufacture, market, sell, profit from or instruct in the use of such drugs.
Schools do not fill the airwaves with commercials promising to correct all of life's ills with another little pill. School employees are not given generous paychecks for creating and selling these drugs.
School websites do not promote the abuse of drugs. This generation of young people differs little from those of my adolescence, or yours.
To be sure, the drugs of choice change, but the behavior does not. We all know adults whose lives have been destroyed by alcohol and drug abuse, whether by controlled substances or prescribed medications. Simply put, this is not an ill owned by schools or youth.
Instead, schools are one of the few institutions in our society consistently working to countermand these ills. Make no mistake, the punishments for such transgressions are as severe as the law allows. However, punishment is a single event, while education is ongoing.
This year, Willits High School has made significant moves to improve health education and access to drug treatment.
For the first time in three years, all ninth graders are required to take a health class.
The passion, professionalism and parenting instinct of teacher Laura Herman are present every day. We've also added a new health occupations course, brought to us by the county's Regional Occupation Program and the department of public health.
Instructor Jennifer Barrett, who also leads our Peer Health Educators group, is taking the first step to prepare the next generation of health care providers.
Foremost in the school's drug prevention and treatment program are substance abuse therapist Eric Holden and intervention specialist John Kirchiro. This pair arrived at Willits High School as a result of a grant acquired by the Mendocino County Department of Public Health, Division of Alcohol and Other Drug Programs (AODP). Eric, a Willits native, and John, formerly a mainstay in our communities Youth Project, have quickly gained the trust of the students.
They offer one-on-one counseling, group sessions and classroom education.
In the next week they will embark on a campaign to meet every student at WHS through selected classes.
DXM. The objectives? Immediate education and intervention regarding DXM, and letting students know that John and Eric are available to help them. Eric can be reached at 456-3823. John can be contacted at 456-3826.
The efforts of John, Eric, Laura and Jennifer along with our entire staff demonstrate that Willits High School is committed to being part of the solution.
Please join us to shape a community that moves beyond rhetoric and stereotypes and models healthy lifestyles for our children.
We are careful not to duplicate the efforts of other organizations, and as a grassroots coalition of prisoners and social reformers, our resources (time and money) are limited. The vast expertise and scope of the various drug reform organizations will enable you to stay informed on the ever-changing, many-faceted aspects of the movement. Our colleagues in reform also give the latest drug war news. Please check their websites often.