BENNINGTON -- To curb the number of people addicted to drugs, students young and old say education needs to come early.
Students from Mount Anthony Union High School’s Quantum Leap Exhibit Program and Bennington College’s Heroin Epidemic Task Force participated in a panel discussion being hosted by Quantum Leap which was part of a series touching on a wide range of topics. Facilitating the panel was Ralph Provenza, executive director of United Counseling Service.
"I came across an interesting statistic reported in multiple studies," said Benjamin Boas, a senior at Bennington College. "Over 90 percent of adult substance abusers, or adults with substance abuse issues, began using before the age of 18, and so as I looked more into prevention I began to pay more attention to drug prevention as it pertains to high school and primary and secondary education."
Boas said that based on his research, he feels there should be more prevention-based programs in primary and secondary schools, but they must be effective.
"What that means is, there’s no one-size-fits-all type of program in this sense. Schools should look for creative and innovative solutions on how to address education in terms of drug prevention," he said.
Experts have come up with a number of recommendations schools should look into, he said. "To close what I’m saying, schools should actively work toward designing programs based on their specific needs and tailor these programs according to what the school’s social, economic, and age factors are, and I think that if taking into account thorough research, thorough organization, school based drug prevention can be something much different than the stigma its received over the years from programs such as DARE which have, in fact, proven to be ineffective."
Not all agreed on how well the DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program works.
"In fifth grade, we had a DARE officer come in every Thursday, and finally he showed us pictures of what happened to people when they were on drugs, and most of us had to leave the room because it was so bad, and it shell shocked us," said Laura Farrington, a junior in the Quantum Leap program. "Ever since then, people have offered me drugs, ‘Um, do you know what those do to you?’ and they’re like, ‘No,’ and I’m like, ‘You should learn what they do to you before you take them.’ And the DARE program, I feel, is very effective."
She felt that DARE is most effective for younger students.
"I started learning about it around seventh grade, and like (Farrington) was saying with the age group, the older you get the more invincible you tend to think (you are)," said Dylan Ross, a freshman in the Quantum Leap program. "The younger you are, you become more affected by learning."
Boas said there are studies that back Ross’ observations, suggesting that attitudes toward drugs held by people in fifth or sixth grade tend to be reflected later in life.
Provenza asked the group to think of people they know who use drugs, and to say what those people needed that they are not getting.
"There’s such a stigma associated with users," said Matt Hoffel, a junior at Bennington College. "We call it a habit, which implies that person does not have a disease, or if you come from a religious background a lot of people associate drug addiction with some sort of moral shortcoming, and I think oftentimes that is not the case."
Hoffel said the stigma against people addicted to drugs has let the problem grow rather than diminish it.
"A wide demographic of users in the area are not wily and conniving criminals, but they’re single mothers," he said. "These are not evil people."
Heroin and opiate addiction have been widely discussed in the community since the New York Times published an unflattering feature story about the problem in Bennington in March. Other national media outlets have done stories on the statewide problem, which was the focus of Gov. Peter Shumlin’s state of the state speech earlier this year.
More panels are scheduled for Friday at the Quantum Leap space at Mount Anthony Union High School on Park Street beginning with "The Kids Gym: Health and Wellness for Youth in Bennington" from 3 to 4 p.m., followed by "Solving the Impossible: Climate Change and Action," from 4 to 5 p.m., and finally "Window of Opportunity: Reengaging Today’s Youth" from 5 to 6 p.m.
Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr.