Can South Valley Stop Teenage “Drug Problems?”

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To my knowledge drugs have always been a problem in High Schools. Whether teachers noticed or not, they’ve always been around. Most of the time the drug of choice is marijuana, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any other drugs around.

According to experts, “around 13% of people who start smoking pot as teenagers become dependent on it. Regular marijuana use can cause a drop in IQ of up to 8 points. Considering that nearly 3,300 teens try weed for the first time every day, it’s an undeniable problem that’s impacting high schoolers everywhere”. (everywhere.
The statistics show that marijuana use is rampant for 12th grade students (although it’s not only seniors smoking):

  • 35.1% of 12th graders have smoked pot in the past year
  • 21.3% of 12th graders have smoked pot in the last 30 days
  • 6% of 12th graders say they use marijuana every day
  • 81% of 12th graders say it would be easy to get marijuana
  • Only 32% of 12th graders feel that regular marijuana use is harmful

It isn’t just that they smoke pot, but it is what they do after they smoke it that is worrying. According to one study, 12th graders who smoke marijuana are 65% more likely to crash their car. Among 12th graders in the U.S., one out of eight drove after smoking marijuana at some point in the last two weeks — one in five rode with a driver who’d been smoking. According to NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse ), the brain relies on chemicals called neurotransmitters to get messages from one part of the brain to the other. Each neurotransmitter attaches to its own kind of receptor—like how a key fits into a lock. This allows messages to travel through the brain on the right path. When you use drugs, it interferes with the normal traffic patterns that the neurotransmitters use. The chemical structure in the drugs can imitate and fool the receptors, lock onto them and alter the activity of the nerve cells. This “alteration” can result in messages going in the wrong direction, and reset the way your brain should act or react.  

South Valley High School has been trying to take action on the situation. The faculty wants the students to be safe and responsible, but by doing that they need to be a bit harsher. To the students, the “problem” isn’t even a problem. It’s part of their day to day routine.  Wake and bake, go to school, leave during lunch to smoke, come back to school and then at the end of the day go back home and smoke again. It’s nothing new and it’s definitely not surprising. However, the situation has gotten so out of hand that the teachers can’t just simply ignore it. It started affecting the classroom environment because a student would smell like marijuana so bad that other students couldn’t concentrate. Also, other students started getting “sucked into it” too, so the problem was growing. For example, if one person is used to leaving school to smoke they usually end up bringing more students with them, so it becomes an attendance problem as well. Mr.Veres thinks that one of the reasons the drug problem was more noticeable is that the students sort of stopped caring if the teachers knew that they would leave to blaze or come back smelling because they were so comfortable with the teachers.  They had built a relationship with them, so they thought that they would be able to get away with it and nobody would care. They were wrong.


To get more one on one information about the problem I did a short interview with South Valley’s principal, Mr. Swett.

Mimi (M): How did you find out there were drugs in campus?

Swett (S): We, and when I say we I mean the administrators, pretty much knew that there were drugs on campus based on the behavior of the kids acting differently. We could smell marijuana, it was pretty clear. That’s always been a problem on campus, so it’s nothing new; it’s just that people were coming to school higher than normal so that was a concern.  Then we started hearing about it and that there were drugs not just being used, but sold and distributed all over campus.  So it was a combination of knowing and being told.

M: Which drug on campus is the biggest problem?

S: Well the biggest problem is probably marijuana, and I only say that because I know that a lot of people don’t see a problem with marijuana, but it does create major brain problems in teenagers because scientifically speaking it keeps your brain from forming correctly and you’ll never be able to get out of that stage where you’re constantly emotional about things. Teens who smoke a lot find it hard to think rationally about how to solve problems, so everything is thrown out of control when somebody looks at you wrong. Marijuana keeps your brain from allowing yourself to mature because the brain literally is not forming together where it’s supposed to. So that’s the biggest problem. As for the behaviors of marijuana users, it is what it is. It makes people mellow; we’re not too concerned about that part of it. But I am concerned about the long term affects of someone using marijuana at your guys age (16-18) big time. I know that the other problem is Xanax.  It is a huge problem because people are mixing it with things and it can kill you, especially if it’s being used in the way kids are using it and kids are taking tons of it. I’m really afraid of the affects of Xanax, and I know that you guys can agree with me that everyone reacts differently. For some of you, it makes you super amped up and crazy, and for others it makes you wanna put your head on the desk and not move, so how can you get through life like that? I know that meth is a problem, it’s not as bad as it used to be, but it’s definitely around; we know that for sure. Cocaine, we know it’s around, all these things are gonna impact your guys health long term

M: What are your plans to stop the drug problem?

S: We didn’t really know what to do. Marijuana you can smell it , meth you can tell when people are on it, it’s pretty clear, Xanax is harder to tell because most of you who use it get really tired it just looks like you didn’t sleep all night so there’s no real way to test it except to get very specific drug tests. We could do that but in my opinion I’d rather just work with you guys and that’s why I walked around to every classroom and I just pleaded with you. My plea was basically, “I can’t tell you guys not to do something outside of school, I know you’re gonna do it. Even some of your parents are using and most of you come from small communities or families who are using.  They’re not setting good examples for you guys. However, when you come to school, I want it to be a safe place for everyone. It’s the one place in your town or lives that you know that things are gonna be safe. That were gonna take care of you and nobody is gonna be flying off the handle. So just keep it out of school.” I think it helped a little bit. They hid it better, that’s for sure, and I stopped hearing the complaints that it was being passed around as much or being distributed in the bathroom. But you guys are in high school, this has been happening forever. This particular year was bad, worse than we’ve ever heard about, but I think just trying to be smart about it and protect one another and respect one another is where we start. It’s a lot of pressure and it’s definitely not just our school that’s the problem, students at the high school and high schools around the country, especially in California, all face this problem. Reaching out to families, bringing the police dogs, that makes it unsafe here for you guys and I want you guys to feel like you can just be safe.

M: How can you go about that plan without getting the students who smoke too angry or even stop coming because they can’t be high while at school?

S: I’ve warned everybody and pleaded with everybody and tried to be respectful. What we’ve done is that if there’s a situation that we’re really concerned about, I’m pulling kids in one by one and just assessing the situation with that kid at that moment, making sure that I’m making the right decision. I grew up in a bad neighborhood. I grew up very poor and my friends didn’t look like me.  They looked like what most of what this campus looks like.  There was nothing worse than having my friends pulled over by a police officer when they weren’t even doing anything and getting themselves into a situation where they end up arrested. The last thing I want to do here is that. If I suspect that you’re doing something, or you’ve been around people that have been doing stuff, and you weren’t actually involved, I don’t want to alienate you.  So, I have to be very very very careful and I think for the most part it works.  It has to be a back and forth kind of thing if you’re gonna violate it. We’ve actually expelled two kids this year because they had so much marijuana on them, so it’s not like it’s not happening. I know that there is some kids on this campus that I could just grab their backpacks today and go through it every single day. Maybe once in a while find something. That creates a very unsafe environment for everyone else who is now on edge all the time and they’re not going to learn very well in that kind of environment, so I have to be very cautious. I’m working with the situation in a way that you guys aren’t even paying attention to.

M: In what way can other students help?

S: I know Freddie Veres (teacher) and a couple of the other teachers always say to watch out for your friends, don’t do x y and z.  And I think just using empathy towards your friends, and realizing there’s other people at school that don’t wanna be around it because their parents are involved with all of this, helps. They come to school to get away from the drugs at home and the craziness at home. Just keep it out of here, go off campus after school. I’m not trying to  promote that, but it’s going to happen and I can’t control that. But here at school, just get your work done and move on.  So I think that just trying to look at it from that point is just being a good friend.  

M: Do the drugs put anybody in danger? .

S: I think so. I also understand maybe some people think that drugs don’t make a dangerous situation. I think it’s rare but there are certain kids that when they take certain things they lose control. And we’ve had a couple times, even this year, when we’ve had some kids on campus who were making me get very nervous because of their behaviors and I knew they were on something, but i couldn’t really prove it. We could have gone through a whole set of testing and I don’t even think the police would have gone through that at the time, and so I’m having to make statements or pull them out of the general population. I think some kids can get a little nutty on it. We don’t really know what’s gonna happen.

The other one that’s really interesting is that marijuana is the one everyone considers the least harmful of them all. When kids your age start smoking a lot of marijuana it can trigger schizophrenia in some of you; more than you might think.  I’ve seen a couple of kids over the last couple of years who were normal kids, everyone would say it, they grew up with them totally normal. All of the sudden they’re just triggered. They’re all of a sudden very strange, kind of on edge. And schizophrenia can lead to dangerous behaviors. So even though marijuana itself isn’t dangerous, in teenagers it can create something dangerous. That’s a weird one; I didn’t even know that existed until I saw it happen last year. The other one is I know that kids are doing pill parties and they’re mixing things. I’m actually surprised there hasn’t been more overdoses. Maybe there have.  I’m actually asking the hospital to send me some data; I hope nobody dies but I mean who knows.

M: Has it always been a problem?

S: It has been a problem, but it has gotten really bad. It’s really bad. The difference that is making things worse is cell phones. Your body releases dopamine, it’s your body’s own “feel good” drug, so naturally it makes you happy. It’s also the motivator.  Some drugs turn off the regulators and flood your body with dopamine. What cell phones do is they continually cause your body to release dopamine because you’re constantly finding out new and stimulating things and your brain is being flooded with dopamine.  So, you have a perfect storm of dopamine of phones and drugs.

M: Is there anything else you’d like to say about it?

S: Just that this town, this community, has a lot of people who have grown up in a drug culture. Who have abused drugs and alcohol and it just creates so much sadness when people finally leave us; and I say that from either death or when they have to be taken away from the family because they need to go to rehab or they just can’t cope and can’t take care of their kids. I don’t understand why the cycle continues when you see your parents doing it and have spun out of control why would you want to repeat that. I know it’s a comfort level and I know you don’t know anything different, but at some point that cycle has got to end.

Mr. Swett had a few more things to say, but I will paraphrase them here:

Once upon a time drug use used to go in waves. You would see one generation of higher drug use than the one before. Things will get worse before they get better. Mr. Swett sees that sometimes drug use skips a generation. Like in his generation, it wasn’t so bad, but now it’s extremely bad. Most people think it’s the poor brown kids doing the drugs, but a lot of the time it’s actually the rich white kids because they can afford it.  It’s not just a problem that’s affecting one race of kids, it’s everybody. Everyone thinks it’s not a big deal, but it is. If Mr. Swett had a choice how to do anything he would teach kids how to meditate. Put down your your phone, close your eyes, and appreciate things.

It’s easy for faculty to say “don’t do drugs,” but it’s not as easy for students to listen to that and just stop; because of what they may be going through or maybe they’re just so used to smoking all the time that they just don’t wanna stop. Adults sometimes neglect how much kids actually go through so they don’t understand why people say that they smoke to relieve stress. For example, an abusive home, being worried about  life after high school, being constantly put down by other people, work, and most of the time school in general. Which is a huge reason that students are high while at school, because even though South Valley is a lot easier that most schools, we still stress out about whether we’re gonna be able to graduate in time or not. Either way it’s gonna be difficult to simply get drugs off campus,  but that’s what teachers are here for; to try and help and guide students through a path to success.



Abuse, National Institute on Drug. “National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).” NIDA. National Institute of Health, n.d. Web. 03 Mar. 2017. <>.

“Drug Use In High School: Facts & Statistics About Teens.” Teen Rehab Center., n.d. Web. 03 Mar. 2017. <>.


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