Assumptions and misconceptions surrounding drug use may be what’s preventing teens from getting help or even talking to adults about what they’re using – and many are using.
The Goldstream News Gazette talked with four West Shore high school students about their drug use and what types of drugs they are seeing other students use. The students’ names have been changed to protect their identities.
While most won’t admit it to their parents, that doesn’t mean some high school students aren’t using drugs other than marijuana. Sam said Xanax and lean (a codeine-based cough syrup concoction) are popular choices for teenagers.
Teens can buy Xanax, or a knock-off of the drug, on the streets for $3, which Joe alluded to being cut with other unknown substances due to the price.
With three popular types of Xanax available on the street, Jane said they’re sold according to colour and strengths. They’re called yellow school bus, green hulk and white rabbit.
All four teens noted drugs are easily accessible and they would be able to get their hands on them if they wanted to.
“We don’t really touch other stuff, but there are other kids that go down and deep. It’s getting kind of harsh,” Sam said.
“There’s a lot of people who do drugs, and there’s nothing people can do to stop it, I’m pretty sure half the smoke pit is high all the time,” Jane added.
The question is not if teens are using drugs but how to get them to open up about their drug use before it’s too late.
Jane said it upsets her when she sees classmates in school high on drugs because some use it as a way to cope with mental health issues, and they don’t or can’t get the help they need.
“The majority of people at the smoke pit don’t do it just for fun, being high in class isn’t fun.”
She noted some teens smoke pot in groups of more than a dozen in a house just down the street from the school.
Neither of the girls smoke pot now, nor do they do any other drugs, but they do smoke cigarettes, which they said can lump them in with the ‘stoner crowd’ in the eyes of adults.
At lunch time, the girls mingle with friends in the designated smoking area. They said it’s a common misconception that everyone there does drugs and they are often judged because of that.
Although, Mary admitted there are exceptions and her school counsellor is one of them.
“He’s always telling me I’m a good person, and I’ve got a lot of people that love me,” she said. “He’s been getting me through.”
Having a support system is key.
Jane went through a phase where she smoked a lot of weed and was able to talk it through with her parents, but didn’t approach a counsellor at school.
“For the most part our counsellors are pretty helpful, but you have to go to them and make the first move,” Jane admitted. “It’s really awkward when you go in and say ‘I smoke weed, please don’t expel me, I just want to talk.’”
“In a lot of cases too they will go to your parents,” Mary added. “It’s supposed to be confidential, but a lot of stuff here they don’t really keep confidential.”
John and Sam said they talk to their parents about marijuana, but wouldn’t tell their parents if they were thinking of experimenting with other drugs because they know they’ll be met with opposition.
“Other drugs are a big no-go, but when it’s only marijuana, they’re completely fine with it because they think it’s going to be legal later on,” Sam said. “But when it comes to the hard drugs, like say Xanax, none of that.”
John added he would consider telling his parents months after the fact if he experimented with harder drugs. “It’s pretty straightforward, I’m pretty honest with my parents,” he explained. “At first I had to hide marijuana from them but now … it’s not really a big deal. But other drugs, no.”
The sentiment was echoed by Jane and Mary, who both have had honest conversations with their parents about pot. But Mary said her parents would be less open to a conversation past that, adding they would just forbid her from doing other drugs.
The Sooke School District has 28 school-based counsellors that students can talk to or confide in, 18 of which are also members of the critical incident response team. Students also have youth and family counsellors, school-based social workers, mental health clinicians, and others at their disposal.
SD62 superintendent Jim Cambridge said all staff have the ability to access resources quickly for students or refer them elsewhere if further assistance is required.
“All of our counsellors, principals and vice principals in our secondary schools (specifically) are used to supporting students when it comes to choices about drug use or dependencies. They have the ability to connect community resource people when needed. This is a big part of their work,” he said.
While there is programming and other resources available in schools, Cambridge stressed the importance of parents talking openly with their children about substance abuse, including alcohol, medications and other drugs, after the suspected overdose death of a Grade 10 student earlier this month.
The Sooke School District has a number of resources available online and in schools if your child needs help. For more information on some of those resources available to parents and guardians, go to sd62.bc.ca/parents/speac/resources or contact your school’s counselling department.