Scott Cole: Drugs are killing our youth
Friday night a week ago, I saw on Facebook that a former student of mine, Pete, had passed away. He was an aspiring musician, playing guitar in many of the nightclubs in and around Nashville. Sadly, he was not the first student I have lost.
I am in my 13th year of teaching. For four of those years, I taught at a boarding school in the Catskills in New York that was dedicated to helping students deal with many issues, with alcohol and substance abuse being some of the major factors as to why they were being sent away. I have lost, as far as I know anyway, at least 25 kids from my four years there. Pete was one of 14 I taught that have died due to a heroin overdose.
For the last few years, politicians and news media pontificate about opioid abuse. They point fingers and say "it needs to be stopped" but no real proposals have been made to curb this problem. In fact, the problem goes beyond opioids.
Most of the kids I taught at that school started with marijuana. They needed to find an escape from whatever pain they had their lives — broken families, deceased parents, depression, being bullied, low self esteem, etc.
Several of my students had to get high many times a day just to get through the day because they couldn't function without it. But when weed wasn't enough, they turned to harder drugs; drugs, that they would find out, would control them for the rest of their lives. The myth that marijuana is harmless is nonsense. Most happy, well-adjusted, stable people do not see a reason to pursue such activities.
One of my former students is now facing a 40-year term in jail for a series of armed robberies of banks on Long Island needing to fuel his drug addiction. Another was arrested with a group of people in connection with the overdose death of actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman.
Closer to home, I also spent four years teaching at the Lenoir County Learning Academy in Kinston. Many of the kids I worked with were involved in one local gang or another. Most of these gangs fueled their influence through the selling of narcotics, starting with weed, and would fight for the right to control the drug trade in certain neighborhoods. Many of my former students there have been on the local news being arrested for a variety of offenses.
We turn a blind eye to drugs in our community. We laugh at stoner movies starring Seth Rogan and perceive that drugs are harmless. But a closer examination will see that drugs fuel local gang economies and their turf wars.
Many of my former and current students would choose not to excel in class because they see a great reward in selling drugs instead of entering the legitimate workforce. Drugs and gangs give certain communities a "bad" or "dangerous" reputation, and on that note, could discourage people from moving in and opening up new businesses; businesses that can offer great jobs to people. Many of the people who purchase them often buy them with money that should go to rent, food or expenses for children.
As we head into the new year, we can no longer just excuse drugs as being something that is there and people will do. We need to ask our political leaders to do more. As a community, we need to secure our towns and our neighborhoods so the influence of drugs is lessened.
Furthermore, I am tired of burying my kids or seeing them put in jail. This isn't a problem that affects some people — this is something that affects all of us.