Walkersville Community Discusses Teen Age Drug Use
by Susanna Chen
Drug related incidents involving high school students have become so common that the impact of deaths and violent acts has diminished over the years. To address this issue, parents and Walkersville staff members gathered for a discussion with the Frederick County Sheriff’s Department on November 30.
Driven by curiosity for experimentation and peer pressure, drug use has become a prevalent subject among teenagers. Almost 23% of high school seniors admitted to have smoked marijuana, while 39% have consumed alcohol (US Department of Health and Human Services). Concerned parents, the school administration, and Frederick’s law enforcement believe that consuming drugs negatively affects the user and are searching for ways to combat this issue.
“I think a lot of teens think [taking drugs] is recreational and social and don’t understand they’re harmful or think about the long term effects,” says parent Mary Flegel.
Mike Gimbel, the former Baltimore drug czar of 26 years and recovering heroin addict, came to speak to parents and WHS staff with a fervent support for the war on drugs. Travelling across Frederick County, he speaks to anyone who is willing to listen.
According to Gimbel, we are currently experiencing an epidemic of drugs fueled by the “fast-food orientation” of today’s society, where drugs may be instantaneously obtained legally through prescriptions.
“We’re facing a heroin, opiate epidemic. Overdoses today kill more people than car crashes…There’s a mess in this country of violence and drugs,” says Gimbel.
Constant glorification of drug use and the depiction of celebrities overdosing on drugs through the media has also glamorized its reputation. People such as Jimi Hendrix, Michael Jackson, and more recently, Robin Williams communicate unintentional messages to students regarding the use of lethal substances
“Media and most forms of entertainment make drugs appear to be cool. Glorifies it. Like it’s for the fun and cool kids.” says parent Mike Staab.
Principal Tracey Franklin also pointed out that the advent of smartphones has equated to an exponentially faster medium for students to communicate, leading to the ability to form networks where drugs may be conveniently exchanged. Murmurs of agreement resounded throughout the audience filled with parents who were all too familiar with the influence of technology.
The rest of the presentation mostly involved Gimbel describing the dangers of various types of drugs.
Out of all the substances which were covered, marijuana was the most earnestly criticized, primarily due to its rising acceptance across America. States are gradually following suit in legalizing recreational use of the drug, a development which causes Gimbel to disapprovingly shake his head and bury his face into his palms.
There are three primary reasons for Gimbel’s passionate contempt for pot. For one, there has been a rocketing increase in its potency as pot has tripled in concentration in the past two decades (PBS). Secondly, it is distributed in several forms, such as wax or vapor, which is vastly different from the traditional dried plant. Lastly, pot’s tendency to lead users to more lethal drugs has placed it above alcohol or cigarettes in danger.
Marijuana can be used in the most unexpected ways. Gimbel displayed pipes disguised as items ranging from selfie sticks to faucets saying to the audience,“You can use anything to smoke pot. Apples, faucets you name it. Just as long as you have a screen to keep the solid part in.”
Vaping is another new and popular form of drug use which was originally developed as a method for smokers to wean off of cigarettes. Its usage has become a prominent issue in Walkersville, with Franklin stating, “I’m not lying when I say that we’re dealing with this daily in our school.” though she notes that these problems can be found in all high schools.
Other drugs such as Xanax and Adderall have reflected the pattern of drugs gaining demand through their abuse.
Sheriff Charles Jenkins then followed Gimbel’s lecture to discuss the sheriff’s department’s role in the war on drugs.
According to Jenkins, last year there were 113 drug overdoses in Frederick, and 28 fatal. These numbers have been increasing over the years, and his “commitment is to fight this problem” by “fighting the flow of drugs into Frederick”.
“We track roadways coming from Baltimore, and we get into tracking cars and get a lot our way. About one fourth of the cars coming from the east contain drugs,” states Jenkins.
Jenkins also brought up a larger matter that lacked spotlight in the discussion. Students arguably hold more capacity for influencing their peers than either the teachers or the administration. However in many cases, social pressures have created a barrier which prevents many students from challenging the actions and decisions of their peers. In response Jenkins states, “You have to be willing to stand up and cooperate. You have to look at it as saving lives and not losing friends.”
Parent Kathy Briske also says, “There are students that will go ‘C’mon just try some’. And if you see someone being approached with that you could get them to leave by saying something like, ‘Hey come over here and look at this water bottle’, changing the topic, or by telling them ‘I don’t think that’s a very good choice.’”
Many students claim that the using drugs is a way to cope with stressful circumstances. This often leads to addiction. And as a former heroin addict, Gimbel claims the only cure for drug dependence is long-term treatment which teaches control and discipline of the mind.
“The message I’m trying to get out is to not arrest our way through this. It’s to provide [people] with treatment and rehabilitation,” says Jenkins.