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Parents Blind to Rising School Drug Use

4 of 5 High School Students Exposed, Survey Shows

Drugs, Schools, and the Cool Factor

Califano says he was most surprised by the responses to questions exploring drug use and popularity.

Overall, one in five teens surveyed said the most popular kids in their school had a reputation for using illegal drugs, and 32% said these popular teens frequently drank alcohol.

But teens attending drug-infested schools were 5.5 times more likely than other teens to answer in the affirmative when asked if the popular kids at their school did drugs. They were three times more likely to say the popular kids drank heavily.

Compared with popular teens at drug-free school, teens who considered themselves popular at schools where drugs were present were:

  • At least 10 times more likely to have used prescription drugs to get high (10% vs. 0%).
  • 9 times more likely to have used an illegal drug other than marijuana or prescription drugs (9% vs. 1%).
  • 5 times more likely to get drunk in a typical month (17% vs. 3%).

Parents Blind to Drugs in Schools

Parents who completed the survey typically were unaware of the prevalence of drugs and alcohol at their children’s schools, or they felt powerless to do anything about it.

When asked to identify the most important problem teens faced, half as many parents as teens (11% vs. 24%) cited drugs, alcohol, and tobacco.

The fact that drugs are no longer on the radar screens of many parents is a big part of the problem, Califano contends.

“Until parents raise hell, nothing is going to change,” he says. “If there was asbestos in their child’s school or if it was infested with rats, parents wouldn’t stand for it. But they just accept drugs. Parents have to get to the point where they tell school officials, like in the old movie Network, ‘We’re mad as hell, and we aren’t going to take it anymore.’”

He adds that parents can have the biggest impact on their children’s behavior by simply being present in their lives.

“Studies show that just doing things like eating dinner with your child at night can make a huge difference," he says.


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