Commentary in the May 20, 2008, Tomahawk Leader
By Rick Lodholz, CSW, SAC
Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Case Manager
The Human Service Center, Rhinelander
Recently Tomahawk residents experienced an unsettling revelation when drugs were found in the school. Hopefully this can be turned into a positive reaction that will benefit the community as a whole.
Last fall, WJFW Channel 12 did an online poll asking if area residents felt there was a problem with underage use. The results came back with 74 percent of the respondents answering “No.”
There are a number of things that can be learned from this situation. First is that a problem does exist. Second is that the individuals caught are definitely not the only adolescents in the school population that are using. Third is that this is a community issue and requires community effort to deal with it.
I believe that the school officials and community leaders who are behind the scenes in the recent dog search on school property need to be commended for their actions. They could have easily excused themselves from taking any action; many school districts do not take such a proactive stance. It is often easier politically to deny the problem vs. drawing attention to it. This is our community and our schools are for all of our children, our hope for the future. The school board members are our stewards and they are making it known that it is not acceptable in our schools. Good job!
We know from adolescents’ self reporting on the WI Youth Risk Behavior Surveys (YRBS) that some of them are choosing to use substances at a very early age. I suggest you take a look at this survey as it is very informative. It can be accessed through the Department of Public Instruction (DPI), web site; http://dpi.wi.gov/sspw/yrbsindx.html
The end result of this use can be felt when we get reports such as Wisconsin having the highest percentage of people who report driving while under the influence. Nationally it is about 15 percent, while in Wisconsin it is 26.1 percent, and that is just alcohol. (You can add another 5 percent for other drugs).
Which leads me to the fact that: Yes, alcohol is a drug. In many ways it is one of the worst drugs. It causes the ruin of more individuals and families than all other drugs combined. It negatively affects most of your body’s organs, more than other drugs. It costs society more in lost productivity, legal ramifications, treatment and lives than all other drugs combined.
This is a community problem that has to be addressed by the whole community. The alcohol industry is very powerful and shrewd. It is important to remember that they exist and thrive on our collective sufferance.
For the last couple of decades they have fostered the idea that this is a parental concern. Let’s examine that premise. It is a very effective tactic. When we buy into this thinking it ensures inactivity. In other words, that’s their problem not mine so I guess I really don’t have to think about it or do anything about it as long as it does not affect me. Divide and conquer, one of the oldest and most effective tactics there is. On top of that, in the last 20 years where has that type of thinking got us?
While parents do have responsibility in this area, it is not enough. Parents often need help and this is definitely an area where they do. Families are stretched thin for quality time for many reasons today. Add that many of them have their own substance-related issues or their views on the issue may be formed without the knowledge they need.
We have always known that it was “bad” for adolescents to use psychoactive chemicals. We now know why it’s bad due to the new information being generated by scientific research.
Communities can make a huge difference for our children if they commit to working on it.