CASA Will Not Tolerate Infestation


Today the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, whose anti-drug hysteria sometimes surpasses the federal government's (this is one of those times), announced that "eleven million high school students (80 percent) and five million middle school students (44 percent) attend drug-infested schools." CASA President Joseph Califano elaborates on these findings, which are based on CASA's National Survey of American Attitudes on Substance Abuse:

This fall more than 16 million teens will return to middle and high schools where drug dealing, possession, use and students high on alcohol or drugs are part of the fabric of their school. Too many of our nation's high and middle schools have become marijuana marts and pill palaces. Parents should wake up to this reality and realize more likely than not, your teen is going to school each day in a building where drug use, sale and possession is as much a part of the curriculum as math or English and do something about it. For many of our middle and high school students, school days have become school daze.

Califano's over-the-top warnings are not only unverifiable but essentially meaningless. How much drug use must occur before it becomes "part of the fabric" at a school? How many transactions does it take for a school to become a "marijuana mart" or a "pill palace"? When does drug use become "as much a part of the curriculum as math or English"? Is the threshold higher for students taking A.P. math or honors English?

The one thing CASA claims to have quantified, drug "infestation," is given a ridiculously broad definition. If a respondent "personally witnessed illegal drug use, illegal drug dealing, illegal drug possession, students drunk and/or students high on the grounds of their school," his school qualifies as "drug-infested." By this logic, when one of my cats brought in a lizard the other day, my house was "lizard-infested."

Since the bar was set so low, it's hardly surprising that 80 percent of the high schools attended by respondents qualified. In fact, since the schools were not identified, the percentage might be even higher. If CASA happened to survey two kids who attended the same school, it could qualify as "drug-infested" based on one student's responses and "drug-free" based on the other's. With a big enough sample, I'd wager, something like 100 percent of high schools would turn out to be "drug-infested" according to CASA's criterion.

CASA nevertheless offers its trademark scary correlations:

Compared to teens at drug-free schools, those at drug-infested schools are:

· 16 times likelier to use an illegal drug other than marijuana or prescription drugs;

· 15 times likelier to abuse prescription drugs;

· six times likelier to get drunk at least monthly;

· five times likelier to use marijuana;

· four times likelier to smoke cigarettes;

· four times likelier to be able to buy marijuana within a day; and

· nearly six times likelier to be able to buy marijuana within an hour.

So kids who witness drug use are more likely to use drugs. Maybe that's because drug use is omnipresent, unavoidable in a school where intoxication is "part of the fabric." Or maybe it's because kids who use drugs are more likely to witness drug use.

I'm not saying drug use by teenagers is not cause for concern. Nor am I denying that some teenagers run into serious trouble with drugs. But in the vast majority of cases, adolescent experimentation with drugs does not result in any significant harm (provided the police do not get involved). Given that 80 percent (or more) of America's high schools are "drug-infested," the kids seem to be doing pretty well.

That is a point CASA is desperate to ignore, conceal, or deny. Consider this "striking finding" that CASA cites in its press release:

Compared to their teen using marijuana, 48 percent of parents would be more bothered if their teen had sex, 82 percent would be more bothered if their teen drove a car while intoxicated and 52 percent would be more bothered if their teen shoplifted.

From the context, it's pretty clear CASA disapproves of these parents' priorities. But by what crazy, mixed-up set of moral or prudential principles is driving drunk or stealing not more worrisome than taking a puff off a joint?