Opinion

Published on June 1st, 2017 | by Tessa Jackson

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The Search for a Drug Prevention Program

I started D.A.R.E. in fourth grade. I knew nothing about drug use, abuse or overdosing. When I entered high school, I was bombarded with warnings of the pressure around drugs, and the importance of avoiding them. Only recently did I realize: everything I learned was from kids.  Everything about getting wasted, edibles, who did hard drugs and who stayed away, I learned from my peers. I got advice, I got warnings and I developed my own outlook on Samo. Then I found out that a ninth grader had tried LSD and jumped off a building, and everyone had something to say.  I hope everyone can agree that any student death is a tragedy, especially those from drugs and overdoses. Many, however have mixed reactions over how to deal with the aftershocks. I understand the importance of drug prevention efforts, but we need a new strategy.

My first thought when I found out I had to attend a drug seminar was about being forced to get up early on Wednesday. I didn’t at all consider what they would say, who would give the presentation, and what it would really talk about. All I cared about was my sleep being ripped away from me.

The seminar was held by the Foundation for a Drug-Free World. I attended the second week of the presentation, on May 10. My previous knowledge was mostly from an informational packet written by FDFW left in my AP Bio classroom and the rantings of my friends. Oh, and another little thing. IT’S ALL SCIENTOLOGY! EVERYTHING IS SCIENTOLOGY! At least that was my inner monologue at the time.

Turns out, the presenters don’t really talk about Scientology. At the very least they’re definitely not kidnapping anyone to join a cult, if that calms you down. The presentation consists of two completely different drug education tactics: personal stories and PSAs. While it’s incredibly entertaining (and not at all annoying) to hear a thirty-year-old tell you “Drugs aren’t lit,” it’s even more fun to watch a videos on prescription drugs end with the kid standing fully clothed in a pool, for some reason I still haven’t figured out.

The running theme of the videos Drug Free World showed and has on their website is fear. Not plot, not facts, not even logic. Just plain old fear. At some point, the overall message of the dangers of drugs is drowned out by the comedy of completely bizarre scenes. Even the powerful scenes, like overdoses, are unrealistic in achieving their goal. If you put a bunch of teenagers in a room and make them watch a video, they’re not going to thoughtfully analyze it with their friends who could mock them sitting adjacent. It’s just implausible.

Maybe it’s just me, but one thing about school presentations in general just annoys me: when adults ignore the point of their message in favor of painfully trying to relate to kids. Sitting through the first speaker discussion of his former high school Beverly Hills, then try to avoid the rejection of Samo by adding “I dated a bunch of girls from Samo. They’re beautiful, great girls!” was nothing short of painful. The worst thing about this is it wasted time that could’ve been used addressing a problem that needed to be addressed effectively.

Especially because of the backlash, I wasn’t very surprised when Dr. Shelton canceled the Drug Free World seminars in favor of a different organization. I thought it was definitely for the best.  I woke up on May 17 again being clueless as to what exactly I would hear that morning. I was delightfully surprised to see vast improvement.

First, no one wasted time issuing “relatable” rhetorical questions like “Sucks getting up early, doesn’t it?” They also didn’t pump up the fear, or for that matter use any horror movie esque videos. They simply gave a powerpoint presentation, using actual statistics and factual evidence. Even better, they ended with a game of Kahoot, an actual way to relate to kids. It did get monotonous at times, but what can you really expect? It’s a lecture on drug safety.  It’s either going to be on the scary side or boring side. I’d take a bit boring in a heartbeat.

Even with the improvements, plenty of students still doubt the necessity of drug education. The fact is knowing the difference between mostly harmless experimentation and serious drug use can be the difference between life and death. Andre Zuczek was not the first high school student to die from drugs, and he won’t be the last. Now more than ever, it’s important to have a dialogue going in schools. The more students know about drugs and how to use them responsibly, the less tragedies will occur. Presentations like this aren’t going to stop everyone from doing drugs, but it can educate them on the risks. If Samo wants to start that dialogue effectively, they need good information. Between the scientology drama and the ineffective  strategies at education, I’m glad Drug Free World is not coming back. I’m glad the second set of presentations did better. I just hope they actually made a difference.

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