By Elaine Dai, Alicia Juang, Jake Kuhn, Elana Sulakshana
The results of The Vanguard’s Substance Use Survey indicate that BB&N has a “pretty healthy” community, according to Wellness Collaborative Educator Will Slotnick, who works each year with sophomores and juniors on stress management and drug education.
“There’s a lot of health in the community,” he said. “For many, many years, BB&N has been doing things like introducing drug education programs and having Mr. Neuman work with peer leaders. That’s what makes a difference. The school has been addressing student drug usage for years.”
The survey showed that the three most commonly abused drugs were alcohol, which 57% of respondents reported having consumed at least once; marijuana, which 26% reported having smoked at least on one occasion; and tobacco products, which 14% reported having tried at least once.
Upper School Counselor Doug Neuman attributed this to the “long, cultural norm” of these drugs.
“Alcohol, marijuana, and tobacco have been around for a long time, and alcohol and tobacco are legal for most adults,” he said. “You can go to the store and purchase a bottle of beer or a pack of cigarettes.”
In a 2008 Vanguard survey on marijuana and tobacco, a greater percentage of respondents reported having tried marijuana (39%) and/or tobacco (33%) at least once. Alcohol consumption was not part of the survey.
“It’s good to see that substance use has largely remained the same over the past five years,” Mr. Neuman said. “There has actually been a downward trend in usage over the last decade at BB&N.”
Mr. Slotnick agreed, saying the results and trends at BB&N are consistent with national ones, which have been going down in recent years as well.
“Nationally, alcohol use is at a historical low, so the survey results didn’t surprise me,” he said.
Marijuana use, however, has recently been trending upwards in the country due in part to increased media attention over the legalization and decriminalization of medical marijuana.
“The national data is shifting in regards to the perceived risk of marijuana,” Mr. Slotnick said. “The old stigma with marijuana was that it was seen as a ‘drug,’ but that perception is starting to lessen with the legalization of marijuana and the increased arguments in favor of medical marijuana. Once the culture says marijuana isn’t as bad as we say it is, younger kids start to adopt that mindset. The fact that numbers from the survey are so low—that’s encouraging.”
Fresh in the national conscience are stories of Lance Armstrong’s legacy torn apart by doping, of promising students whose lives are consumed by Adderall addictions, and of little-known but deadly substances like bath salts. Even though these drugs—hard drugs, prescription drugs, and performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs)—are the ones that have dominated recent media coverage of substance usage, usage at BB&N remains very low.
Just 2% of respondents reported to have tried hard drugs, 10% have used prescription drugs other than ones obtained legitimately from doctors, and 0.74%—three students in total—have used PEDs. But, he points to the low usage of Adderall, a prescription drug that treats attention deficient hyperactivity disorder that is “rampant” on college campuses, as encouraging. 3.5% of students reported to have tried Adderall without a medical prescription.
According to Mr. Neuman, these substances are not seen as “okay” to use among peers.
Mr. Morton said, “With some of the harder drugs, kids might worry more about immediate or long-term effects.” This may contribute to the downward trend in hard drug, prescription drug, and performance-enhancing drug usage.
“When I first got here, there were definitely students pushing themselves in terms of hard drug use,” Mr. Neuman said. “Recently, some new substances such as salvia, oxycontin, and bath salts have appeared nationally. I was curious if all of that made its way to BB&N, but this survey shows that [they haven’t] really.”
He credited the increased drug education and stress management programs for the general decrease in drug use but also pointed to recent drug-related disciplinary actions that resulted in the expulsion of two students last year.
“I definitely think last year’s student dismissals had an impact on students here, and that may be why we’re seeing the downward trend at BB&N right now,” Mr. Neuman said. “We are currently at the bottom of a cycle, a cycle that may veer up in two or three years once students forget about the student dismissals, and the same process could repeat itself.”
“With any kind of drug, student usage depends on what kids are exposed to at BB&N and beyond,” Mr. Morton said. “A lot of our kids tend to socialize with a much larger group of kids who attend other private or public schools, so usage depends on what they encounter in their peer groups inside and outside of school.”
Mr. Neuman said that overall, substance use at BB&N is “consistent with our expectations.”
“Drug use is and will probably continue to be part of standard adolescent culture, and the school will keep educating students about the risks of substance use so they are at least aware of the consequences if they experiment with drugs,” he said.