Drug classes don't faze, so students still blaze

April 6, 2006, midnight | By Jody Pollock | 14 years, 9 months ago

Where only first names appear, names have been changed to protect the identities of the sources.

Junior Josh Quattlebaum spent all of January 2005 high. He woke up each morning, smoked marijuana at the bus stop, left school during second block to smoke, left again to smoke during lunch, came home and smoked yet again before falling asleep.

One month earlier, Quattlebaum had finished a set of 32 drug prevention classes as a result of being arrested for possession of illegal substances. For Quattlebaum, they didn't prevent much.

Despite this questionable effectiveness, teens who abuse drugs and alcohol are increasingly entering similar treatment programs. Admissions to adolescent substance abuse treatment programs increased 65 percent from 95,000 in 1992 to 156,000 in 2002, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). In Maryland alone, about nine percent of all substance abuse treatment admissions in 2004 were for patients 18 and under.

With treatment options ranging from a few outpatient classes and urine testing to several months or even years of intensive inpatient care, adolescent substance abuse programs aim to reeducate and reform teens who have been led astray by drugs and alcohol, explains David Putsche, coordinator of Adolescent Services at the Maryland Alcohol and Drug Abuse Administration. He says that the longer the treatment, the better the chance of success at overcoming addiction, and in general, treatment programs have been shown to decrease arrests and unemployment due to drug abuse. However, he continues, effectiveness is largely dependent on individual effort.

When teens like Quattlebaum are legally required to attend substance abuse treatment, as more than half of all adolescents in such programs are, according to SAMHSA, they often lack the motivation to put what they learn into practice. And so, Quattlebaum, like many other teens who have been through substance abuse programs, left behind the educational videos on heroin and worksheets on Blood Alcohol Content and promptly got high.

Powerlessness, hope and faith

But before he could get away with getting high again, Quattlebaum had to face his sentence.

As part of the mandatory 30 classes at the Adolescent Intensive Outpatient Program for Chemical Dependency at Potomac Ridge Behavioral Health System, Quattlebaum was required to follow the 12-step program model, originally engineered for overcoming alcoholism but later expanded to accommodate other addictions, to end his abuse of marijuana.

STEP 1: Powerlessness. Quattlebaum had the first step down. In fact, he had felt powerless ever since Homecoming night in October 2004 when, after stumbling back from a party at 2:30 a.m. intoxicated, he had fallen asleep in his car, only to be woken half an hour later by a police officer knocking on his window. The cop pulled Quattlebaum out of the car, patted him down — which Quattlebaum insists was an illegal search — and found 12 grams of marijuana stuffed deep in his pocket. Handcuffed, Quattlebaum watched three other police cars pull up.

After he spent four hours in a holding cell, Quattlebaum's father picked him up and took him home to wait a week until a meeting with an intake officer, who would decide Quattlebaum's fate.

STEPS 2 and 3: Hope and faith. Quattlebaum, apparently unfazed by his arrest and the impending legal consequences, got high several times that week. As the day of the intake meeting approached, he arranged to drink a detoxifying solution to flush the traces of marijuana out of his system so his urine test would appear clean.

Luckily for him, it worked, and with clean results, Quattlebaum was sentenced only to treatment classes rather than a more intensive program that would have included a probation period and more frequent urine tests.

Junior Diana Taaff was similarly thankful for the leniency afforded her when she was caught smoking cigarettes during school hours with a few friends behind Parkdale in Prince George's County, which she attended in ninth grade. Upon meeting with an administrator, Taaff was told she would have to go to an after-school drug program every day for two months or she would face a 10-day suspension.

She opted for the classes. Besides, she thought, how bad could they be?

One out of every 10

Ricky, a senior, was not so optimistic. After his very first class at Second Genesis, a nonprofit drug and alcohol rehabilitation program in Washington, D.C., he downed 15 shots in one sitting.

Ricky had been caught drunk at the Homecoming dance after taking a Breathalyzer test at the door. He was suspended for 10 days, kicked off of a school sports team and sent to a social worker, who assigned him six weeks of classes at Second Genesis. She warned Ricky that if he were caught drinking again, he would be sent to a six-month program instead.

STEPS 4 and 5: Inventory and Honesty. On his first day, the 10 students in Ricky's class introduced themselves and explained what they wanted to change about themselves. Ricky stood up and explained that while he was officially there for alcohol, marijuana was his "drug of choice." In the spirit of the introductions, Ricky told the class that he was going to quit, but, he says, "I definitely wasn't planning on quitting." So much for step five.

According to Steven Moreno, a certified substance abuse counselor for alcohol and drugs and an adolescent counselor at Suburban Hospital, this is not uncommon among adolescents in drug treatment programs. He estimates that out of every 10 students, two will stop abusing substances for a long period after the program, seven will stop for a shorter period after the program and the remaining one will continue to use drugs during or directly after the program.

Both Ricky and Quattlebaum represent that 10 percent. Quattlebaum smoked during the daytime before his classes, drinking the cleaning solution whenever a urine test approached. Others used less discretion: Quattlebaum says he remembers watching a few students smoking marijuana during breaks in the middle of class.

According to Ricky, rather than discouraging use, the substance abuse classes actually pushed him into more serious alcohol abuse. Because the urine tests deprived him of his marijuana fix, Ricky substituted drinking for smoking. "It turned me into an alcoholic," he says.

And, 20 minutes after his last class at Second Genesis officially ended, Ricky was high.

"Druggies know about the drugs"

STEPS 6 and 7: Preparation and Letting Go. For those who don't actively defy the requirement of sobriety during class, these programs are meant to encourage healthier choices. "There's no cure for addictive disease," says Moreno. "The only way to treat it is abstinence, so we teach them about the signs and symptoms of addiction."

In class, students typically watch informational videos, fill out worksheets and discuss the dangers and legal repercussions associated with various drugs. According to Moreno, drug treatment programs provide information on everything from chemical effects on the brain to the stages of addictive disease in order to enlighten misguided students. These programs exist to help adolescents examine their use and the negative impact it has on their lives, says Moreno.

But, according to Ricky, students learn about more than just the downsides of drugs and alcohol. He already knew he would never get to step seven — nor did he want to — but he didn't know that being in a substance abuse program would make experimenting with different drugs appealing. Ricky explains that the videos they watched in class "glorified" the very drugs they were meant to discourage because, unlike videos shown in high-school health classes, they did not over-exaggerate the addictiveness. "Druggies know about the drugs, so they can't lie to them," Ricky says.

As a result, Ricky says he is now more willing to try cocaine not only because the videos showed that it wasn't as addictive as he had previously imagined, but also because several students in the class had tried it and explained what cocaine highs feel like.

While Moreno insists that being surrounded by peers in substance abuse programs helps students recover from addictions, Quattlebaum argues that it makes the classrooms breeding grounds for drug abuse. "All they do is let you associate with more drug users," he says.

No need

STEPS 8, 9 and 10: Humility, Forgiveness and Continuous Inventory. Taaff, on the other hand, got the message her treatment program was trying to convey. Shocked by the graphic videos on addiction, she decided to quit. Taaff hasn't picked up a cigarette since making a New Year's resolution last year to never smoke again. "It helped me, so I think it could help other people," she says.

Unlike Taaff, Quattlebaum insists that he got nothing out of his treatment program and believes it was a waste of his time. "They just drill it into your head that [drugs and alcohol are] bad," he says. "All drug addicts know it's bad for them, but it doesn't mean they're going to stop." Quattlebaum argues that the decision to quit "needs to come from a life lesson, not a piece of paper or a video."

Moreno agrees to a point, explaining that these substance abuse treatment programs can do very little by themselves. "Until a person suffers enough consequences from the use, most people don't make significant changes in their lives," he says. "With adolescents, they're probably just in the beginning stages of addictive disease, so those consequences aren't so common."

STEPS 11 and 12: Conscious Contact and Carrying the Message. In fact, for Quattlebaum, it was life lessons rather than classroom lessons that encouraged him to stop smoking marijuana. After spending the entire month of January high, he soon tired of marijuana, and by March, he had slowed his marijuana intake to almost complete standstill. Quattlebaum began boxing and found that he filled the time he would have spent smoking with something more productive and enjoyable.

Quattlebaum, who has been sober for a year, believes that anyone can overcome addiction with enough determination and dedication. "If you work hard enough to quit smoking weed, stop shooting up, stop snorting coke, you can do it, with or without classes," says Quattlebaum.

And this from the boy who spent an entire month high.

Jody Pollock. Jody is a CAP senior (finally!) who is looking forward to another great year in Silver Chips. When she's not driving herself crazy with her impossibly busy schedule, she's singing with InToneNation and going to City at Peace practically every day of the week. Somehow … More »

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