Malignant Neglect: Substance Abuse and America's Schools
CASA REPORT: MORE THAN 14 million middle and high school students returning to schools where drugs used, kept, sold
Student Substance Abuse Costs Schools at Least $41 Billion a Year
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Nine and a half million high school students—60 percent—and almost five million middle school students — 30 percent — are returning to schools this Fall where illegal drugs are used, kept and sold, making them twice as likely to smoke, drink or use illicit drugs as students whose schools are substance free, a report released today by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA) found.
The 117-page report, Malignant Neglect: Substance Abuse and America's Schools, is the result of six years of analysis, surveys, and field investigations, including one hundred focus groups with students, teachers, parents and school administrators in public, private and parochial schools across the country, and the most exhaustive study ever undertaken of the available data on substance use in our schools and among our students.
The report found that substance abuse and addiction will add at least $41 billion—10 percent—to the costs of elementary and secondary education this year, due to class disruption and violence, special education and tutoring, teacher turnover, truancy, children left behind, student assistance programs, property damage, injury and counseling.
"Drugs and alcohol have infested our schools and threaten our children and their ability to learn and develop their talents," said Joseph A. Califano, Jr., CASA President and former Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare. "Parents raise hell and refuse to send their kids to classrooms infested with asbestos. Yet every day they ship their children off to schools riddled with illegal drugs. When parents feel as strongly about drugs in our schools as they do about asbestos, we will have drug-free schools."
The CASA report reveals a complete failure to achieve the year 2000 National Education Goals enacted by Congress in 1994. That legislation pledged that by the millenium year America's schools would be "safe, disciplined, and alcohol- and drug-free" and that there would be widespread "parental participation."
The report's most troubling indictment is that the widespread availability of drugs in schools is due to malignant neglect of parents, teachers, administrators, communities and students themselves. The problem is aggravated by persistent finger pointing and denial: parents blame schools; teachers blame parents; school administrators cite a lack of community support; community members claim that the school officials are indifferent; and students blame their peers. "It is time for each of us to stop looking out the window and start looking in the mirror," said Mr. Califano.
Each year, there are 13.2 million incidents where a 12- to 17-year old tries tobacco, alcohol, marijuana and Ecstasy or some other illicit drug. Many Americans tend to look at experimentation with cigarettes, alcohol and illegal drugs as a benign rite of passage, "something kids will get over." To the contrary, the CASA report finds that a high proportion of students who experiment with these drugs continue using them throughout their years in high school. Among students who have:
- evertried cigarettes, 85.7 percent, 2.1 million, are still smoking in the twelfth grade
- ever been drunk, 83.3 percent, 2.1 million, are still getting drunk in twelfth grade
- evertried marijuana, 76.4 percent, 1.4 million, are still using it in twelfth grade.
The report notes that every American child will face a conscious choice whether to smoke, drink or use drugs before they graduate from high school. The outcome of this choice will be related to a host of factors, including parental and family engagement, religious and moral values, learning disabilities and psychological factors.
The CASA report found that two of the most important factors leading to student substance abuse were the availability of drugs and perception of risk in using them. Responsibility for both of these critical factors rests heavily on the doorstep of schools.
To fulfill these responsibilities, schools have tended to rely on zero- tolerance policies and substance abuse curricula. Zero-tolerance policies mandate suspension or expulsion of any student caught smoking, drinking or using illegal drugs. The report concludes that such policies are a double-edged sword. They send a loud and clear no-use message. However, they can encourage parents and students to remain silent about drug use because of fear of expulsion from school, often allowing a child to become more dependent on the drug. Moreover, too few schools with such policies work with the troubled students to get them into treatment; even fewer offer the hope of return to school to help motivate them to enter and complete treatment.
The report found that curriculum courses designed to provide information about the risk of drug use and develop the will and skills to say no have an inherently limited value. It notes that there is little evidence that curricula in existence have had any extended impact on student smoking, drinking or drug use because so many other factors—parental engagement, parental substance abuse, depression, anxiety, learning disabilities, low self-esteem—are beyond the scope of these curricula.
Nevertheless, curricula can be an important tool to educate students about the risk of substance abuse and the report includes suggestions to make these courses more effective—conducting them in each of the 12 school years; intensifying them at transitions from lower to middle school and middle to high school; covering cigarettes and alcohol as well as illegal drugs; and having individuals likely to influence kids (such as public health experts, athletes and peers) conduct them. But the report cautions against reliance on curricula presentations as silver bullets that render parental, teacher and community involvement unnecessary.
"Without the active engagement of parents, students, teachers, principals and community members in broad efforts to prevent substance use, curriculum programs alone are little more than 'feel good' Band-Aids on the problems of student substance use and abuse," said Mr. Califano. The report contains suggestions for schools, parents, communities, and the federal, state and local governments.
Malignant Neglect: Substance Abuse and America's Schools was funded by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, Primerica Financial Services and the Atlantic Philanthropies.
The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University is the only national organization that brings together under one roof all the professional disciplines needed to study and combat all types of substance abuse as they affect all aspects of society. CASA's missions are to: inform Americans of the economic and social costs of substance abuse and its impact on their lives; assess what works in prevention, treatment and law enforcement; encourage every individual and institution to take responsibility to combat substance abuse and addiction; provide those on the front lines with tools they need to succeed; and remove the stigma of substance abuse and replace shame and despair with hope.
With a staff of 74 professionals, CASA has demonstration projects in 47 sites in 31 cities and 20 states focused on children, families and schools, and has been testing the effectiveness of drug and alcohol treatment, monitoring 15,000 individuals in more than 200 programs and five drug courts in 26 states.