Last Thursday, one of the most historically reliable assessments of drug use by children – and teens – across the country was released. News is mixed, particularly in parallel with December 2022 “drug overdose” data. In short, even with a positive gloss, news is grim.
First, the famous Monitoring the Future (University of Michigan) drug use survey – of kids in 308 schools, 8th, 10th, and 12th grades – indicates that general use is relatively steady, with 11 percent of 8th graders, 21.5 percent of 10th graders, and 32.6 percent of 12th graders abusing drugs.
This would seem, with some upticks in specific areas, to be – if not good news – somehow not utterly devastating. That is the gloss, the notion that we are not worse than last year, so let’s think positive.
Only these numbers, and what they omit, necessarily do not discuss, and really mean – is actually devastating. Even within this stable use level, what do these numbers tell you?
They tell you young Americans are abusing drugs at a young age – and if accurate, a third of high school seniors abuse narcotics. More, they tell you that drug use triples from 8th to 12th grade in America.
What does that, in turn, tell you about drug abuse education efforts, how real, serious, focused, and effectiveness they are, whether being taught by teachers or parents? Does the trend from 8th to 12th itself not suggest that prime years for warning about addiction, damage, and death are being lost?
Look closer and you see something else. America has roughly 24,000 high schools, public and private. This survey of 308 has historically been of great value. This year, however, one quarter of the schools that usually participate opted out, or never opted in. Even if 308 is enough, ask yourself why?
Answer: As the study admits, these high schools are not at full operation, post-pandemic. That suggests challenges to management, education, and monitoring student life. The pandemic drove many young people to reduced-learning, isolation, alienation, escapism, and data shows social damage. That, in turn, points to higher – not lower – drug use in that missing “25 percent” of schools.
Thus, real numbers for drug abuse among youth – rather than remaining stable – may be hidden and higher, just not included due to lower-functioning high schools opting-out, or failing to opt-in.
Corroborating that idea – and the profound danger presented by higher youth drug use nationwide – is the provisional overdose data, which was released in early December. This data suggests another horrific year of overdoses, again near 107,000 if the numbers hold.
If the number of overdoses remains roughly identical to last year (108,000), one is hard-pressed to find good news here. What is worse, one of the most commonly used drugs is marijuana – which is now often sprinkled with fentanyl, itself the top killer of kids who get caught in the drug web.
What do these two studies together – one suggesting as much drug abuse as a year ago, plus an upward trend from 8th to 12th grades, the other reporting similar overdoses to a year ago – really mean? They mean that the youngest demographic in this country – is facing a silent killer, one that could be prevented but is being allowed to rage, killing 300 kids a day.
And what does that mean? It means those in positions of high authority, local, state, and federal – are either overwhelmed or, in some cases, indifferent or content to believe drug abuse will not create addiction, not produce death, for anyone they know – and so, it is not a priority.
The truth is hard to accept, but here it is: Young Americans, often with minimal use and never imagining death, are dying of drug overdoses at a rate 12 times that of just two decades ago.
Do the math. If it is easier to get addicted than to get out of addiction; if death comes faster with higher drug purities; if marijuana legalization induces more to initiate, reducing inhibitions and leaving young people closer to the oncoming train – overdose death – what are we doing?
The answer is, we are setting up an exponential curve, higher numbers of initiates, innocents induced to think drugs will not kill them, as drug purities, availability, initiation, addiction, and overdoses hit an all-time high – and every reason to believe they will continue to grow.
The real – final – question is: Where is the White House, US Congress, national governors association, conference of mayors, major teachers’ unions, and civic groups who – a mere 25 years ago – fully understood the danger and grief, so cared and taught drug avoidance?
We may not be able to turn back all evil, end addiction and overdoses, stop all Chinese fentanyl and Mexican cartel trafficking within one year. But we better start trying, or the impact will be incalculable grief. Where are the leaders who care? That is what recent drug abuse and overdose data…prompt me to ask.