LHI Blog

Suburban Adolescents Struggle with Substance Abuse

You probably don’t need hard data to tell you that drugs and alcohol are a major problem in our society. Substance abuse is often thought of as an urban issue with visions of homeless people huddled in corners with brown paper bags. Few of us can imagine a well-scrubbed teen in expensive jeans and a designer shirt shooting up heroin or raiding the medicine chest for dad’s pain medication. Recent data paints a new picture of this burgeoning epidemic of substance abuse in adolescents.

Hard data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, one of the most comprehensive and rigorous studies of the behavior of American high school students, recently reported what we all now suspect - teens in the suburban public schools drink and use illegal drugs as often as adolescents in urban public schools. The data from the National Survey on American Attitudes on Substance Abuse reported that 32% of the middle school students and 60% of the high school students surveyed claimed that "students keep, use or sell drugs on their school grounds." Thirty-six percent said that it's easy to use drugs without getting caught and more than half said that they knew a student in their school who sold drugs. In an annual study done by the National Association on Drug Abuse, 65% of the students said that having five or more drinks of alcohol a week posed no danger and over 25% admitted using an illegal substance in the past month.

This all points to the fact that we are dead-center in the middle of an epidemic of substance abuse among a vulnerable teen population. This leading healthcare issue in greater Lowell continues to be mired in fear, embarrassment and denial. Authorities need to attack this problem the same way they attack a deadly virus, with resources, research and a strong show of public commitment. Prevention funding, diversion programs and enhanced treatment capabilities combined with a strong public awareness campaign would be a great start to a war on drugs that doesn't incarcerate the victims, but attacks the true enemy - our apathy and denial.

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