Taking a stance against teen drug use

By William Shuttleworth | Dec 31, 2011

In the last two months, we have made the decision to bring drug dogs on campus at Camden Hills Regional High School.  Two weeks ago, five well-trained drug-sniffing dogs and their handlers spent just short of 20 minutes going through each hall and hallway locker doing what they are trained to do best.

A month prior, two dogs went to the student parking lot and searched each car.  I am pleased that in both cases no drugs were found.  In both instances, no students came into contact with the dogs, no backpacks came into nostril’s reach of the dogs and no legal rights of students were violated.

So, why is a superintendent doing authorizing the use of drug dogs in our schools?  I made the decision after due counsel with other school administrators, our dedicated school board, some teachers, many students and some well-informed community citizens who all agree that there is prolific use of drugs and alcohol by our students at the high school.  It is my duty and responsibility to create a safe, drug free campus for all students.  Certainly, this goal must sound like an apple pie and mom mantra, one that all of could agree to.

And, yet you would be surprised that this is not universally popular. I have had students tell me that there is a small core of parents who view drug use as inevitable by students so they try to manage it, not forbid it. Some parents have told kids that limited drug use at this age is more or less basic training for the experiences their children will encounter when they get to college. Other parents apparently host parties for kids in their homes to create a ‘safe’ place to get hammered.   Some just don’t care. Hard to believe isn’t it?

I won’t burden you with the black and blue statistics of how rampant drug use is with students throughout the country, except to point out that marijuana use is now more prolific than cigarette smoking.  It would appear that marijuana use has actually increased with the legalization of marijuana dispensaries, many of them in Maine, that give the illusion that marijuana is a health food.  Let no one be fooled. To the contrary, despite the paradox side effects that are positive for a few serious conditions, marijuana use by teens is pure danger.  Marijuana burns at a high temperature, produces more tar than cigarettes and reduces attention, focus and judgment in most people.  It is also, by research, a gateway drug, meaning that hard-core drug addicts can often trace their sorry history to early use of marijuana.

It is not just pot. I worry about cocaine, acid, bath salts, prescription drugs like Percocet, Vicoden, Oxycontin and others. I worry about the amount of booze in the blood streams of our youths with a steering wheel in their hands.  I worry about the inadvertent tragedy of an untimely drug-related tragedy at school that would forever alter the culture and the oasis of safety that students and parents should expect in school.

I have come to some basic tenets about drug and alcohol use.  First, there is no such thing as safe use of drugs for children.  Second, use of drugs and alcohol are not only dangerous to the body and emotional health of students, they are also illegal.  Third, schools have an important, but limited, role in creating a drug free culture for kids. We do provide a lot of services, including a part time substance abuse counselor, outstanding guidance counselors, a full time psychologist, an active prevention committee and a school that fosters an endless list of positive social opportunities for our students. We are well-connected and represented on Communities That Care, one of only a handful of communities in the nation that has such a resource. And, fourth, the risks are greater now than they have ever been in our lifetime.

We held a public meeting in the gym at our high school. It was well-attended and we had a panel of experts who gave honest information of a compelling nature. On the way out of the gym, a man came up to me and told me that he didn’t much like the idea of me pawing through his son’s backpack. I told him that I didn’t much like the idea either, and said, “Why don’t you do it?”

I stopped at a popular convenience store to get a quart of milk and a high school boy came up to me and said: "Thank you, Mr. Shuttleworth, for doing what you are doing to prevent drugs coming into our school. You know, there are a lot of kids who are starting to feel that our school will soon be safe for all of us.”   It is important to remember that most kids don’t do drugs and alcohol, but for those who do, it is is not a problem that will go just go away.

Which leads me to the fifth tenet that I believe strongly in: The best drug-prevention program is the dining room table. I urge every mom and dad to set the plate for loving, direct and meaningful discussions about core values that drive each family as help each boy and girl make intelligent, informed decisions about their futures.

William Shuttleworth is superintendent of schools at School Administrative District 28 (Camden and Rockport) and the Five Town Community School District (Appleton, Camden, Hope, Lincolnville and Rockport).

Comments (1)
Posted by: Richard McKusic, Sr. | Dec 31, 2011 23:34

One MAN willing to stand up and say, "No more!". Thank you, Mr. Shuttlesworth for the example for the rest of us to live up to in our individual neighborhoods and our homes.

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