Education Chat

Chat Transcript: Teen Drug Use

Meredith Maran, author of Dirty: A Search for Answers Inside America's Teenage Drug Epidemic, fields questions about teen drug use and the factors surrounding those adolescents who abuse.

Teen Drug Use

About our Guest:

Meredith Maran, author of Dirty: A Search for Answers Inside America’s Teenage Drug Epidemic

Mark Toner, Teacher Magazine (Moderator):
Welcome to Teacher Magazine‘s Talk Back Live. We’re fortunate to have with us today Meredith Maran, author of Dirty: A Search for Answers Inside America’s Teenage Drug Epidemic. An award-winning journalist and author, Maran was prompted by her own son’s battle with drugs to write Dirty, in which she follows three adolescents as they struggle with addiction. We’re going to let her make an opening statement, then get right to your questions.

Meredith Maran:
Thanks for joining this chat, and for your dedication to kids! Both in living the nightmare of my son’s drug abuse, and writing about it in the pages of DIRTY, I became convinced that talking about teenage drug abuse is one important way to talk about the crisis of children and child-rearing in our country today. I hope you’ll read and teach DIRTY, and for that purpose I can make discounts available. For information, please visit my website, Thanks!--Meredith Maran

Question from Cynthia Rivera Weissblum, President, Results Collaborative Group:
What effect does increased academic pressure, overscheduling, and overall pressure to perform and succeed have on a young person’s desire to turn to drug abuse as a form of escapism?

Meredith Maran:
You know, Cynthia, after living through my son’s teenage hell years, and writing a book about teenagers and drugs, you’d think I’d be able to answer that question. But the fact is, what I learned from writing DIRTY is that there’s no easy explanation for what causes kids to use drugs. Too much academic pressure, not enough; strict parents, lenient parents; living in a poor neighborhood, living in a wealthy neighborhood--the only thing all kids who abuse drugs have in common is that they’d rather get high than feel what they’d be feeling if they weren’t. That’s where I think we should put our energies--into giving kids other ways to feel good.

Question from Matthew McDermott, Teacher, Frederick Douglass High School, Baltimore:
In your opinion, which is the more devestating influence: the struggling public school systems in many poor, urban areas (such as Baltimore City, MD), or the damaged family values that are instilled in many of these students in these areas?

Meredith Maran:
As I’m sure you know, both are pieces of the puzzle, which isn’t really such a puzzle at all. In my last book, Class Dismissed, as well as in Dirty, I close with proposals for change that encompass school, family, and community life. The same communities that get the fewest resources for public schools get the fewest resources in most other areas of life. I’m not sure the problem, by the way, is ‘damaged family values’ as much as just plain ‘damaged families.’ The War on (Some) Drugs isn’t helping, either.

Question from Cindy Horst, parent educator and personal coach:
Will you comment on this thought, please: One way to increase the odds our children will stay away from drugs is to let them learn from experience, starting at a very young age, that bad things happen when we make bad decisions. When kids get warning after warning, when parents (lovingly) interecede to save them from the negative consequences of their behavior, children grow up failing to develop a voice that says, “think what might happen to you if you make this next move.” I’d like to hear your thoughts on that concept please, or reducing the risk of later drug use by allowing children to grow up having to live with the consequences of bad decisions.

Meredith Maran:
I agree, it’s important to find the balance between protecting kids and allowing them to experience the consequences of their actions. That’s the hardest thing about raising (or educating) kids, in my opinion--and that’s the reason I wrote a whole book about the subject, which makes it hard to come up with a concise answer here! Bottom line: parents need to go from the gut--know when to swat a child’s hand away from an electrical outlet and when to let him/her flunk a class. I strongly suggest getting reality checks from other adults who know and love the child, because parents’ judgment is often colored by love.

Question from Anthony Corte, Teacher, Fraser High School:
In your interview (Bitter Pills) you state that “schools” failed Tristan and Mike, who have learning disabilities -- which form of disability was not mentioned.

Since the basis you your interview was with drug dependency and youth, are you suggesting that this failure of the schools is the reason for their drug dependency?

Meredith Maran:
Nope, and if you read DIRTY you’ll see that I feel we’re failing kids as a society, making it difficult if not impossible for teachers to educate them, parents to nurture them, and communities to protect them. I believe our national priorities are the opposite of what they should be, and until that changes, the schools won’t get what they need to educate kids, and parents won’t get the time and resources they need to parent them well. That said, I did find that kids who have trouble in school are more likely than others to abuse drugs.

Question from Westview MS:
I am stymied. My son, 18 years old is a senior. He is making mostly F’s, skipping school, defiant, threatening to move out, and smoking pot. He is borderline ADHD and was on concerta and then another drug.Nothing helped and they both made him anxious and volatile. I took him off all meds. I think he is experimenting with other drugs, but I have no proof. I have found razorblades in his room. My question is What should I do? Should I take him to a substance abuse clinic? Wait until a tragedy occurs? Wait until the police catch him? We no longer allow him to drive our vehicles, and he doesn’t have one. He was this sweet kid, who hugged me lots and talked to me all the time. Now he just gets mad at me, for asking too many questions and fussing at him when I pick him up and know that he is high. I am so sad.

Meredith Maran:
I’m so sorry you’re going through this. When I say I’ve been there, I mean it--that’s what moved me to write DIRTY. My son Jesse, who was doing everything your son’s doing and more, is now doing wonderfully, and I hope you can gather some hope from that. As for what you should do--I’d suggest you get opinions on that from people who know him and you. Get a reality check, and then trust your instincts. It sounds like you know you can’t wait for a tragedy, and maybe you can get some helpful suggestions about what limits to set and consequences to mete out and how exactly to do that. My heart goes out to you, and I wish you and your son all the best.

Question from John Heranic, teacher:
As a student teacher, I have no experience with identifying symptoms and signs of drug use. What is the best and fastest way to come up to speed?

Meredith Maran:
I trust your pun was unintentional; when kids are using speed it’s pretty obvious (jumpy, twitchy, short attention span), but other drugs are less so. Best case scenario: Take one period of one class and ask the kids to act out the behavior of kids on various drugs. If you can’t do that, I’d contact a local drug treatment program; they’ll have brochures and/or classes you can attend. You can also read my book, DIRTY, which describes all that in detail.

Question from Barnea Levi Selavan, Foundation Stone:
What is the underlying message, what “mantra” can an institution stress, put up on boards, etc., that would be most effective in creating a consciousness that would deter drug use?

Meredith Maran:
The best thing an institution can do to deter teen drug use is to create a strong working alliance between itself, parents, teachers, community, and kids. The better kids are known, the less likely they are to do drugs. The better the services that are offered them, the better they will be known. Work with natural allies to fight for small classes, arts in the schools, after school programs that kids actually like, more spots in drug treatment programs etc.

As for a mantra or slogan to post on a bulletin board--try “Just Say Go--to someone you can trust and talk to.”

Question from Liz Wells, special education and mother of seven:
Growing up in the 70s, I was well aware of the drug problem that was running rampant in high schools at that time. There were a lot of bad drugs in the schools during this period of time. What makes the problem any worse now then what it was back then?

Meredith Maran:
Two things: stronger drugs, and weaker communities/families. The cutbacks that have devastated schools and other youth services have given kids less reason and fewer ways to live healthy lives.

Question from Reta Gundlach, teacher, Morgan High School:
I believe that only a few of my students actually take illegal drugs. Several of them do smoke and/or drink. Having a free classroom atmosphere, my students know they can discuss anything with me. But I sense an attitude that says drugs (including alcohol and tobacco) are no big deal. How do we destroy that idea as well as the idea that choosing to use drugs is a mature decision?

Meredith Maran:
I’m a big fan of peer educators in schools. Some use that method for teaching sex ed--training students to go around to classes and teach other students. The same should be done about drugs. It’s cheap, effective, and engaging. One important point: the teacher has to leave the room!

Question from pyeager, teacher, Marshall County Alternative School:
What is your opinion on an alternative educational environment for students who are having trouble with drugs and just don’t fit in the “NORM”?

Meredith Maran:
In DIRTY I profiled a “recovery high school,” a public school for kids with drug abuse problems where academics and counseling are blended in each day. I’m a big fan of those, and there are not nearly enough of them! If a whole school isn’t possible, it’s great to have a classroom in a bigger school. That’s how many recovery high schools started. For details and/or resources, see the Resource Guide at the end of DIRTY.

Question from Ray Beisel, Professor of Education, Indiana University of Pennsylvania:
Meredith, I teach on the freshman campus of Indiana University of Pennsylvania, located in Punxsutawney, PA. There is a noticable problem with drug use in the community and on campus. My question is, what is your history of illegal drug use, and what do you believe the influence of parental/adult drug use (modeling) is on our teens?

Meredith Maran:
I told my kids the truth about my drug use, and I believe that my honesty influenced them more than the content of what I told them. My sons at 23 and 25 are two of the most honest people I know. Many parents have a different approach. More importantly, kids see that adults use and abuse legal and illegal drugs and pharmaceuticals and have a hard time taking us seriously when we tell them to “Just Say No.” 6 million kids on Ritalin, huge numbers of adults on anti-depressants--let’s look at ourselves first!

Question from Jim Snow, Department Head, Applied Technology Magnet, LBUSD, CA:
I’m from the ‘60s. Back then kids were smoking pot and dropping LSD. Nowadays I hear kids talk about getting high but I’m not sure what kinds of drugs they are doing. What drugs are they doing now and what are the effects?

Meredith Maran:
You’re “from the 60s,” huh? Me too, but it’s a funny turn of phrase. Anyway...the most common drugs among kids today are pot (and it’s VERY strong pot), alcohol, methamphetamines, and Ecstasy. The last 2 are the fastest growing among teens. Club drugs are still popular too, as are hallucinogens. In my opinion the single biggest threat is meth, also known as speed, crystal, crank, etc. These stats, and living examples, are explained in great detail in my book.

Question from Kevin Flynn, Student Asst. Counselor, Freehold High School:
In your opinion, should schools become more involved in the actual testing/screening of students for alcohol/drugs once a student is suspected of being under the influence?

Meredith Maran:
If you mean, should a particular student be tested once s/he’s suspected of using drugs--that should be up to the parents. I’m opposed to random drug testing in schools because research shows it doesn’t curb drug use and it doesn’t help kids who are in trouble with drugs. For what the testing costs, I’d prefer to see schools doing TRUE drug prevention: training peer drug educators, and most importantly, breaking big schools into small schools and big classes into small classes, so kids can get the attention they need.

Question from Gloria Anderson, Director of Student Services, Mountain Brook Schools:
Those of us who work in schools feel more and more pressure to determine if kids are using drugs and if that is the underlying reason for their problems. How can this culture empower parents to step up and pay attention to their own kids, their progress or lack of it, and to seek assistance when they need it? It is simply not possible for parents to assume the schools can do it all. Parents have to be participants, and they have to pay attention to the lives of their kids.

Meredith Maran:
Excellent question. And from parents I get the question, how can teachers get more involved? Unfortunately this culture will NOT empower parents, or teachers--we have to do that ourselves. The best way is to form ‘holy alliances’ between parents, teachers, students, and community to give kids what they need. Only that way will those who care about kids have the power it takes to make budget and other policy changes.

Question from Will Driscoll, parent, Arlington School District:
Among 12th graders, only 5 percent of Black females have ever smoked, compared to 27 percent for White females, and only 11 percent of Black males have ever smoked, compared to 26 percent of White males. Similarly for heaving drinking (in the past two weeks): 8 percent for Black females vs. 28 percent for White females, and 18 percent of Black males vs. 42 percent of White males. (All data are from the annual Monitoring the Future study.) What accounts for the comparative success of the Black community in preventing teenage nicotine and alcohol abuse?

Meredith Maran:
Sorry not to be able to give you the answer you want, but let me clarify: I wrote DIRTY because my son went through hell as a teenager and I wanted to try and understand what it meant on a larger scale. I’m not a statistician nor a social scientist, so I can’t say why fewer black kids smoke cigarettes and drink. What I did learn in the course of researching DIRTY is that kids of color use drugs less than white kids do, but get in trouble for it much more--they get arrested, incarcerated, and sent to residential treatment in numbers out of proportion with their actual drug use compared to white kids.

Question from Mike Friedman, Research Assistant, American Institutes for Research:
For the majority of teenagers, do you believe drug use is more than just a risk-taking phase that takes place during adolescents and dies down in the early twenties?

Meredith Maran:
Research shows that the vast majority of teen drug users stop or slow their drug use in their 20s, as you say. But whether a kid’s having trouble with drugs or not, and whether s/he will stop on her/his own or not, I’ve never met the teenager who couldn’t use a little more guidance and support from adults than is currently offered. You’ll find this research and more in my book, DIRTY.

Question from Juanita, ECE Specialist, NYC:
What are some specific points to share with young people about drugs other than the #1 conversation for me: Drugs damage your brain!!

Meredith Maran:
Again, it’s hard to get kids to believe aduls about drugs (and so many other things), in large part because of the hysteria generated by the government’s anti-drug campaigns. Kids know that those claims of danger are overstated and so become quite cynical about what’s told to them. That’s why I advocate peer drug education in the schools. Kids believe other kids.

Question from John Guffey, Instructional specialist (service-learning) Eagle Rock School & Professional Development Center:
I teach in a residential, year-round alternative high school for teens who have left school without achieving success. Drug use during session will get students expelled from this school, but when they go home during break their behavior is not monitored or sanctioned. We can only suggest that they uphold the values that they are beginning to develop through participation in our program. We take students into the wilderness, put them through rigorous physical education programs, empower them within the community of learners to be leaders and decision-makers for themselves and the school, but still they must go home and face the realities of their home community - this school is not their home forever, nor do they want it to be. What suggestions can you offer to help us strengthen student resolve to stay clean and avoid going back to their old ways when they go home on break, or to avoid turning to drug use while they are here?

Meredith Maran:
I’ve heard great things about Eagle Rock and I feel your frustration. Yours is the $64,000 question for all treatment programs, and if I could answer it I’d be a wise woman indeed. I wrote DIRTY to look at what causes kids to get themselves into trouble, and if you read it you might get a picture of those factors, and also what helped some of the kids I wrote about turn away from self-destructiveness for good. To summarize: focus not just on what they’re doing wrong (using drugs, etc.) but what they can do right. I can’t endorse career training strongly enough!

Question from Harvey Lee, Program Specialist, PREL:
If substance abuse is considered a disease, should we treat it as a public health problem and not criminal? Mahalo (thank you)

Meredith Maran:
Yes indeed! And even more so, we should treat it as a SOCIAL DISEASE, meaning it’s caused by social problems not just personal problems. That’s why in DIRTY I looked not only at the specifics of kids’ drug abuse, but also at the factors in their lives that caused them to want to blot out their emotions.

Question from Regina Ash, Regional Director, Project EXTREME high school afterschool program:
Could you point out what you feel are the primary reasons why a teen-ager turns to drugs?

Meredith Maran:
I asked this question of literally hundreds of kids during the 2 years I was working on DIRTY, and the answers are in the last section of the book, starting on page 283. To summarize: to have fun, because they have no hope, because they don’t believe adults who have lied to them about so many things.

Question from Kristen, PTA Member:
Do you feel that student drug testing is beneficial to keeping kids off drugs?

Meredith Maran:
It’s not just that I don’t feel it is--research shows it isn’t. The best way to keep kids off drugs is to give parents the resources they need to be good parents--something we’re nowhere close to doing. Also, smaller schools, better funded schools, better pay for teachers, more counselors, ec.

Question from Carter Smith, parent and school administrator, Williston, VT:
I have heard therapists say that risk and safety are “adult” concepts. What do we do with that? How do we keep our kids safe and how do they learn to steer clear of high risk behavior?

Meredith Maran:
Please see my previous answer. We’ve got to stop looking at teen drug use and teen risk-taking as an isolated phenomenon, and start looking at what teens’ lives are like and what they see in the lives of the adults around them and what motivation that gives (or doesn’t give) them to stay sober. That’s the reason I wrote DIRTY: to look at the bigger picture, but through the eyes of the kids who are living it.

Question from Jerry A. Micelle, Social Studies Teacher, Calcasieu Career Center:
What should a classroom teacher do when he or she hears students supporting drug use by making statements like: Marijuana is not a drug?

Meredith Maran:
Start a classroom discussion. Kids are the best drug educators. I know it’s hard when you’ve got a curriculum to teach, but unfortunately it’s part of the job description of today’s teacher! You can also use books like DIRTY as a textbook (teacher discount available at my website, to provoke discussion. Kids know more about drugs than we do!

Question from :
My son says he was using drugs and yet when they did a drug test w/in 24 hrs of when he had said he had used his testing came back clean. Is this possible? My son is in a treatment facility, and is saying he has used drugs continuously for the last 5 years. I know some of the time he may have been using. I’m not denying he has experimented w/ drugs, but I don’t know how I would have missed if he was truly into drugs the whole time. He wasn’t one that was allowed to run the streets. He was home almost all the time he wasn’t in school. Could I have been that blind? What was I missing? How do I handle it if he isn’t being truthful w/ the children’s home he is in and yet insists he is? I’m very confused and desperate for an understanding.

Meredith Maran:
First, let me say I’ve been where you are; that’s why I wrote DIRTY, and it might give you some solace as well as some information to read it. Second, to be blunt: yes, we can all be blind to our kids’ realities. I was shocked when I spent 3 years with the 3 kids I wrote about in DIRTY, and realized how much I’d missed when my own son was in trouble. One piece of advice: take care of YOURSELF. Get support. Tell friends. Hang out with people who love you. Don’t go down with the ship! Good luck.

Question from Ken Gentile, Health Lynwood High School:
I grew up in the 1960s and 70s and most kids I hungout with started smoking marijuana and drinking in the 9th grade, From what I can tell it doesn’t seem to be much younger now.What do you think? What does research say?

Meredith Maran:
What the research says is often different from what our own experience and common sense says, in large part because the research methods (calling teenagers at home, when their parents might be listening, and asking them to tell a stranger about their drug use) are pretty flawed. That’s why I followed 3 kids through 2 years of their lives in DIRTY--because I believe that’s the best way to get inside the problem. But yes, kids are starting to smoke pot and drink in 6th grade on up--a little younger than when we were kids.

Question from Pam Phelps, Vonore Elementary, School Counselor:
How can you work with students that admit having drug problems in the school and be effective? Many need more help than I am trained for or have the time to provide.

Meredith Maran:
Great question. I feel your frustration. It’s not just drug problems you don’t have time to handle, is it? I’d suggest you create an alliance with a local teen treatment program, and have them set up a peer counseling program in a discrete location on campus. Also make local resources available to kids in your school. DIRTY includes a Resource Guide that might help. Good luck!

Question from Patrick Hlavaty, Author, North Georgia Star Newspaper:
We are fighting the “Drug War” and show no sign of winning. How do you feel about legalizing marijuana, available only to persons over 18 or 21?

Meredith Maran:
You are so right. We are LOSING, big-time, and so are our kids. That’s exactly the point I make in DIRTY. I’m for legalizing pot, but it won’t solve the problem, as long as prison is more profitable than treatment.

Question from Phillip LaCourse M.A.,L.L.P. Office of Substance Abuse, Oakland County Health Division/Michigan:
We live in a society that sends a double message of “say no to drugs” but “party till you puke”. With the barrage of advertising toward minors, alcohol distributors are reaping huge rewards from the legal drug. We need to end television advertising of any alcohol product, re-introduce the FAMILY as prevention ... Do you agree and how do we resolve it??

Meredith Maran:
Yes, I agree. The question is how do we enable families to not only keep their kids off drugs but also give their kids what they need to be the best healthiest people they can be. For starters, employers should give parents paid time off each week to work in their kids’ schools (the Army does that), and pay parents wages that allow them to work 40 hours/week, not the 60 most people do.

Question from Diane Cotton, Teacher, Union Alternative School,:
As a teacher, I see students are not aware that there is a life without drugs. Their parents use drugs, their friends use drugs....they are totally immersed in an atmosphere where drugs are a way of there a way to get past this learned behavior?

Meredith Maran:
Again, we’ve got to look at the bigger picture. We complain kids are on drugs but don’t fight back when school budgets are cut and kids lose arts programs, music, all the necessary ‘extras’ that allow kids to tap into their most positive selves. Kids who see a happy future for themselves don’t self-destruct. What are we doing as a society to make that future possible?

Question from Carter Smith, parent and school administrator, Williston, VT:
Is there a connection in your mind between quality vocational, technical training for students and drug use? I wonder if more kids get a fulfilling connection to the world of work and their future, if it would make a difference?

Meredith Maran:
Oh, I’m SO happy to read your question! That’s exactly what I advocate, and if you read DIRTY you’ll see my discussion of that topic. Why do we think kids will magically know what they want to do and can do when they graduate from hig school???!!

Question from Cynthia Kurth, Program Coordinator, The Upper Room Family Resource Center:
Many of the teens i work with indicate that the adults in their lives use substances (especially marijuana) and are successful in their jobs and relationships. This makes it very difficult for the teen to make changes. What approach to teens in this situation is most effective?

Meredith Maran:
Maybe kids can use pot and still be successful--the issue, really, is how they define success and whether they’re able to get there. Trying to get kids off drugs just for its own sake won’t work, and may not be necessary. The real trick is, nurturing kids’ gifts so they have reason to strive.

Question from Meg - Educator, Parent:
What about teens who are regular users of pot, acid, alcohol that are basically staying off the “radar screens” of parents, police, schools, not escalating to other drugs or activities. Getting by but standing still? Any thoughts?

Meredith Maran:
See previous answers about giving kids access to their own potential--not just academics, but the arts, sports, whatever makes them the unique and healthy people they are. Think about all you could do for the kids in your life if money were no object...then get together with other parents and teachers and fight for the money!

Question from Jane Burnette, Council for Exceptional Children:
I think it’s also true that drugs are used to “self-medicate” or ameliorate problems associated with “hidden” disabilities such as ADHD. Many people with untreated ADHD or learning disabilities have problems with substance abuse as teens and later, as adults. There are a number of reasons why kids with disabilities are at higher risk of drug abuse than other kids. Also, teachers don’t have enough information about how to recognize these problems or incorporate prevention messages into their lessons. ...

Meredith Maran:
Agreed. But I’m not a big fan of the ADHD diagnosis. With 6 million kids on Ritalin, we should take a look at smaller schools, smaller classes, more counselors, better paid teachers--and then see whether kids can pay attention.

Question from Virginia Lifsey, teacher, Windsor Spring Elementary:
At the school my teen attends, drug use during school is routine. On any given day you can walk down the hall and spot children high on drugs. Wealthy parents have effectively blocked any atempt by officials to stop drug use (to protect their children from records that would ruin their lives). They have a point, but they are hurting others. Suggestions?

Meredith Maran:
A community that can transcend differences to protect its children is the kind of community we all want to raise our kids in. I’d suggest creating an alliance of parents, teachers, clergy, local drug treatment professionals and other community members to come up with enforcement and consequences everyone (or at least most people) can live with. One example: the school I wrote about in my last book, Class Dismissed, allowed parent volunteers to patrol the halls during the school day, which greatly reduced drug use among other problems. Police didn’t need to get involved; kids got the message.

Question from Regina Ash, Regional Director, Project EXTREME high school afterschool program:
I know so many high school teachers who don’t even seem to “like” teen-agers, much less trust and respect them - how do we convince these “nonbelievers” that these kids are phenomenal? They are bombarded with the media, conflicting messages, so much more than we were as youth, yet they are smart, resilient and caring, still. How do we convince the burnt-out teachers that all of them are GOOD kids?

Meredith Maran:
THANK YOU!! While I was writing DIRTY, and my last book, Class Dismissed (about 3 teens in their last year of high school) a lot of adult friends asked how I could stand to be surrounded by teenagers for all those years. My probem is more how to stand being around adults! People who don’t like teenagers don’t know teenagers, which isn’t their fault--especially teaches who are too overburdened just getting through their days. More pay, smaller classes, more respect for people who work with kids would help a lot!

Question from Melissa Brooks, Health Educator:
Are you familiar with the Coordinated School Health approach? If so,what are your thoughts about this program?

Meredith Maran:
No, sorry--but if it has to do with offering high school kids on-campus education, I’m for it! I just gave a talk to the San Francisco school district’s health educators, and you all are my heroes!

Question from Christine Egbert, TU Student:
How do we get kids and young adults to get over the “it can’t happen to me” frame of mind in regards to the dangers and risks of trying drugs? There are so many people out there that have used drugs and end up being totally fine for the rest of their lives. Convincing of this them seems to be a huge hurdle. Thanks

Meredith Maran:
First, acknowledge the truth instead of trying to scare kids straight. Second, focus on what’s good and healthy about kids instead of focusing on their problems. Third--get them to read DIRTY. Only half-kidding :-}

Question from Levi Cambridge, Music Teacher, El Dorado High School:
What is the best strategy to help students whose parents are using and introducing them to drugs and alcohol?

Meredith Maran:
Ideally we’d have real drug prevention and treatment programs in the schools, encompassing the whole family, but sadly that’s rarely the case. If I were you I’d seek out any drug treatment programs in your area and try to create an alliance between the programs and the school. Is there a health center at the school that could create this relationship?

Question from Katherine Nelson, English teacher, Arrowhead High School:
Why do so many of our parents think that as long as students are drinking alcohol in homes and not driving elsewhere, it is okay? They think they are good kids because they don’t do drugs--just drink on weekends.

Meredith Maran:
They may be right! The vast majority of kids can do some amount of drug experimenting without hurting themselves or others.

Question from Ken Gentile,Health -Lynwood High School:
i have been educating teens for 15 years now and I want to know if you think educational videos (made for instuction) or real movies made for the cinema or television (Clean and Sober,Rush etc.)are more more effective in disuading teens from drug use.

Meredith Maran:
No! Kids sit and laugh at them. I’m for peer drug education (see previous comments on that topic). One of the kids I wrote about in DIRTY was in a video like that, and he even laughed at himself!

Question from Fern Michel, Health Educator, Mildred E. Strang Middle School:
How can teachers and administrators work with parents to help prevent drug use among teenagers when the parents are resistant to the idea that it might be their child who may begin using drugs?

Meredith Maran:
Do parents nights on the topic--I’ve been speaking to PTAs and other parent groups connected to schools, and it’s quite an opening! I’m available to travel, or find local experts, buy a box of cookies, and do it!

Question from Wendy Woodworth, Administrator, Menominee County ISD:
Once it is determined a youth is involved with drugs, what are some of the more successful ways that parents and schools can intervene and provide support?

Meredith Maran:
Schools can help by allying with local drug treatment professionals and programs, finding out which are good (many are NOT), and guiding parents toward them. Every school should have a resource guide to local family support agencies, compiled by parents and updated constantly! Also, there’s a parent resource guide at the end of DIRTY which may be of help.

Mark Toner, Teacher Magazine (Moderator):
Unfortunately, that’s all the time we have; apologies to those whose questions we were unable to answer. Thank you, all, for your thoughtful and provocative questions, and thank you, Meredith Maran, for your candid answers. For more information, visit Meredith Maran’s Web site at, read her Teacher Magazine interview, and please check back later at for a transcript of this chat. Thanks for taking the time to join us.

Meredith Maran:
Thanks for your intelligent, caring questions, and please write to me at if I can answer any more.

Take care, Meredith Maran

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