With teen icons making drug rehabs look like a trip to the amusement park, it should be no surprise that the age groups they are marketing their product to are being treated for drug abuse as well, according to drug counselor Tramaine Stevenson.
During Stevenson’s five years counseling, more often than not her patients are under the age of 20. (See Youth Drug Use chart.)
“People think that it’s only white suburban children who have access to droves of their parent’s money who are addicts. They are in my office, but waiting right next to them is a poor black child who has become addicted to the meds that treat his ADD and ADHD disorder and is now experimenting with any drug that will get them high,” said Stevenson.
According to the Aspen Education Group, despite the fact that federal spending on the drug war increased from $1.65 billion in 1982 to $17.7 billion in 2006, more than half of the students in the United States in 2006 tried an illegal drug before they graduated from high school.
Additionally, 65% have tried cigarettes by 12th grade and 35% are current smokers, and 62% of twelfth graders and 25% of 8th graders in 1999 report having been drunk at least once.
However, a group of “new age” drugs are being used by teens as well. Beyond the 79.1% of adolescents who drink and the 47.1% that smoke marijuana, there are now 17.1% of students who have experimented with uncommon drugs such as LSD, PCP, “Ecstasy”, Methadone, mushrooms, speed, and “ice”.
Not included in those percentages are the amount of adolescents who use inhalants which includes but are not limited to laughing gas, “snappers”, “whippets”, “bold”, and “rush”. All of which are nitrates that can be found in something as simple as a room deodorizer. Other forms can be found in nail polish remover, paint thinner and certain perfumes.
Because these products can be found in any household, children as young as fourth grade have been treated for using them, according to The National Institute for Drug Abuse.
Although Blacks have been treated for using some of these “new age” drugs, most are used by Whites and Hispanics at nationwide 19.1% compared to the 3.4% of black users.
For Stevenson, although Black children aren’t in the majority for using the highly popular drugs, they are still using medications that are addictive, and she feels this is relatively worse.
“Black children are suffering from different psychological disorders because of traumatic upbringings. Instead of our community investing in getting them therapy they give them medication,” Stevenson said. “It seems innocent, but for a child suffering from post-traumatic syndrome, or one who is already addicted to a substance because their mother used it during pregnancy, medication is not always the answer.”
Although children make up a small portion of those suffering from post traumatic-syndrome, Black children make up 37% of the cases, specifically African American boys under the age of 13, according to the National Child Stress Network.
“A lot of the children I work with are functional addicts. They take their meds and they walk around like zombies. The second the high is over they are an emotional mess,” said Psycologogist Colleen Johns-Lewis. “We have had to hospitalize children because their parents don’t give them their medication. The majority of these children are in the foster care system and are black.”
Some causes of adolescent drug abuse are depression, peer pressure, and the potent influence of the media. But Stevenson said that the onus should be on the parents as well.
“At their age they are still impressionable,” she said, “and if parents neglect them and don’t help them by being positive examples or help them make positive choices I believe this cycle will continue.”