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The point of the problem

Publisher’s note: The following editorial is reprinted from the October 26, 2006 edition of The SUN.

Substance abuse. It’s a very real and persistent problem, and it is invariably a hot topic; one taken up by avid politicians eager to make an impression and amplified by marginally informed alarmists whose thrashings rarely produce effective progress in the battle. Substance abuse can destroy lives, can rip families apart, weaken a society. And we have, so far, done little about it except spend enormous amounts of money on “wars” and engender more intrusions into our privacy.

When the topic moves to substance abuse among young people, the heat is turned up even more. Drug and alcohol use by underage individuals produces wild responses: legislators pass laws, schools react in Draconian fashion (many times motivated by genuine concern for what is deemed “the school culture”), task forces are formed, meetings are held, voices raised.

And very little happens to stem the tide.

There is evidence that substance abuse among local youngsters may have increased somewhat lately. If not, substance use by some youngsters, in particular of marijuana, seems to have become more obvious, more visible, occurring with more impunity, say local law enforcement officials.

How do we deal with a problem like this? Some urge the schools to take a more active, pseudo-law enforcement approach. And school officials have, either by choice or by mandate, become increasingly involved in the monitoring of students’ personal lives off school grounds and away from school time. Others urge law enforcement to adopt more intense approaches to the problem.

A lot of folks make a lot of noise and institutions respond: schools become more oppressive, the law enforcement community runs more and more youngsters into courts and programs. And it seems to make little difference. Why? Is it because we are demanding action and accountability at the wrong points?

The point is the parent and certain other adults in the community.

There are few parents whose children abuse alcohol and drugs who are not aware of that fact. If they are unaware, they should be ashamed of themselves. If they are aware and do nothing about it, their shame should double. They are the problem.

There is evidence that shows drug and alcohol abuse damages a youngster’s ability to develop a sound emotional, social and intellectual base. There is evidence that use of drugs and alcohol by adolescents produces problems with learning.

And a parent allows this to begin and to continue? Is the pressure to be a friend, to be free of the stresses of parenting so great that a sacrifice of this magnitude is acceptable?

It is the failure of the parent that produces the failure of the child.

It is also the irresponsibility of some members of the adult community that aids and abets substance abuse among our young people. Adult members of the community provide the substances, profiting from the problem — financially or socially. An adult likely brings drugs into the community; an adult purchases the alcohol and provides it to the underage drinker. Sometimes that adult is but a few years older than the users; sometimes that adult is a parent. Arrest and prosecute them.

Ultimately, if we are to have any chance of dealing with this situation, we must put pressure where it belongs: On the parents who see no problem with chronic substance use. On parents who attempt to excuse their children’s abuse of drugs and alcohol. On “parachute parents” who seek, in rabid fashion, to divert attention from a child’s behavior and their role in it. On adult suppliers.

Substance abuse will not be solved by institutions. Substance abuse will not be countered by slogans or noise. Substance abuse by youngsters must be dealt with where it begins. At home. And with adults.

Karl Isberg