Pat Jones (not the high school student’s real name) is asked a question and grins.

Pat Jones (not the high school student’s real name) is asked a question and grins.

“How long would it take me to get some marijuana or booze?” he asks, repeating the question.

“One phone call. It scares me how easy it is to get drugs. Drugs – just about any drug – is available to any student at any school. It’s just a fact. You call a person, you get what you want.”

That alarming statement is backed by some recent studies done by some of the most respected research groups in the country.

Daily marijuana use increased among eighth, 10th, and 12th graders from 2009 to 2010. Among 12th graders it was at its highest point since the early 1980s at 6.1 percent. In 2010, the perceived risk of regular marijuana use also declined among 10th and 12th graders suggesting future trends in use may continue upward. After marijuana, prescription and over-the-counter medications account for most of the top drugs abused by 12th graders in the past year. Among 12th graders in 2010, nonmedical use of Vicodin decreased from 9.7 percent to 8 percent. However, nonmedical use of OxyContin remains unchanged across the three grades and has increased in 10th graders over the past five years (The National Institute on Drug Abuse).

Jones, who is looking for a scholarship offer, was a starter for an area basketball team that made a deep run in the playoffs.

He admits to drinking and smoking marijuana and credits strong friends and teammates for making sure he stopped after casual experimentation.

“A friend has some weed and wants you to try it,” he said, matter of factly. “They tell you it’s cool, it’s fun. It’s not! I hated it. I understand why some people use drugs, but they aren’t for me – and neither is drinking.

“I can’t speak for everyone in my school, because I don’t know everyone, but 90 percent of the kids I know smoke (marijuana) and drink. I know kids who smoke before school and after school. They smoke in their bedroom.

“It’s crazy that parents can be so blind. They smoke, and leave their windows open, and think its OK. And they don’t get caught.”

A Youth Risk Behavior Survey – conducted over a 30-day period in 2007 by the National Center for Drug Free Sport based in Kansas City – showed that 45 percent of high school students drank some alcohol, 26 percent were part of binge drinking (five or more drinks at one sitting), 11 percent drove after drinking alcohol and 29 percent rode with a driver who had been drinking alcohol.

“I got in the car the other day with some friends and all of a sudden, there’s a bag of weed,” Jones said. “I got out and got into my own car. One person gets in trouble in a car, everyone gets in trouble. It’s like people aren’t thinking straight – but a lot of kids don’t think it’s wrong to drink and smoke.

“And I’m not judging them. No way I’d ever do that. It’s easier to be on a team, to be surrounded by teammates you can go to for help and support. We all stay together and help each other.”

But he said it wasn’t always like that.

“I had a teammate once who always had a bag of weed. He wasn’t a team guy – he just thought about himself.”

Jones said the more involved his ex-teammate became in illicit behavior, the more he changed.

“The change was real noticeable,” he said. “You see a decline in personality and in the way they look at school. He just stopped doing school work, he didn’t care about anything. It was sad. We tried to help him, but he didn’t want to listen to any of us.”

A recent literature review identified that students who participated in high school sports reported higher levels of drinking than those who did not participate (The International Center for Drug Free Sports, 2010).

 

High school athletes are more likely to binge drink, use tobacco and use multiple drugs (i.e., steroids) than their non-athlete peers (Partnership for a Drug Free America, 2010).

 

A national study released in March 2010 points to marked upswings in the use of drugs that teens are likely to encounter at parties and in other social situations. Alcohol use in the past month by teens in grades 9-12 has grown by 11 percent. Past year ecstasy use shows a 67 percent increase. Past year marijuana use shows a 19 percent increase (The International Center for Drug Free Sports).


“I am sure the drugs and alcohol are out there, and we do catch some kids drinking on school grounds,” Truman High School activities director Eric Holm said, “and we have strict guidelines we follow.

“Dan (Ogle, William Chrisman), John (Ihm, Van Horn) and I are not principals, so we are not involved in the disciplinary measures. But punishment can be a minimum of 10 days suspension to being expelled. It’s a matter we don’t take lightly.”

Blue Springs activities director Mark Bubalo takes a realistic approach to the problem.

“There is underage drinking – it’s a problem we deal with – just like administrators dealt with it when I was in high school in the 1970s,” Bubalo said. “It’s an issue that needs to be dealt with by the parents. The more they are involved, the less the schools have to deal with it.

“The problem is really a two-edged sword. You have a group of parents who believe MSHSAA (Missouri State High School Activities Association) and the school district should not get involved in anything students do outside of the school.

“Then, you have another group – maybe an even bigger group – who believes we don’t punish students or enforce our code of ethics. I like to think that in the Blue Springs School District, we work to find a happy medium.”

The Blue Springs School District has a three-strike policy when it comes to activities for violating its Code of Ethical Behavior, which includes drugs and alcohol. The first offense is suspension “for up to 20 percent of the contests in a season in which the violation occurs or in the next season in which an athlete has previously participated.” Second offense is 40 percent, and the third is suspension from all extracurricular activities for 365 days. Reinstatement after 365 days is offered with “strict parameters and guidelines for behavior.”

While drug use and alcohol consumption seem to be a part of the fabric of today’s high school society, Kansas City sports psychologist Dr. Andrew Jacobs believes there is a subliminal reason for some of the problems.

“Do you watch beer commercials on TV?” Jacobs asked. “They are some of the best commercials on television. They are exciting and feature healthy, attractive people who are doing fun things.

“That sends a message – the wrong message – to young people. They can go through a school’s DARE program, but then they are tempted by these commercials. And peer pressure, and pressure to perform and unrealistic pressure from mom and dad. There is no simple answer to the problem, but it is a problem.”

Jim Hinson, the superintendent of the Independence School District, has great faith in his teachers, administrators and coaches when it comes to dealing with issues involving alcohol consumption and drugs.

“We meet with the parents or caregivers before the start of every (sports) season and go over the rules and regulations of the student hand book,” Hinson said. “They know what is expected of them. They know the rules. They know our citizenship policy.”

And if they break the rules, they know the consequences.

“That’s the problem,” Jones said. “You don’t think about the consequences if you want to be with the in crowd, with the popular kids. You see the popular kids do it, and that makes a lot of kids want to do it, too. Everybody wants to fit in. No one wants to be an outsider.

“So some kids do what they think they have to do. That’s not for me. I have my friends, I have my teammates and we stick together. If one person has a problem, we do everything we can to help him out.

“That’s what teammates are for, isn’t it?”