“Drug” Education Failed. Let’s Try “Will Kill” Instead.

Is there anyone who disputes that forty years and millions of dollars later, “drug” education is a failure? Had it succeeded the first decade, or the second, third, etc. it would no longer be needed, for then there would be little or no demand, and thus little or no supply.

I think the reason “drug” education failed is sloppy word choice, which is indicative of sloppy thinking. When elementary kids would come up to me with their red ribbons to show my commitment to being drug-free, I accepted them, passively, since I am not snarky to kids. But through my head went, if it weren’t for drugs I wouldn’t be here. I’ve already taken drugs today, drugs that will, with luck, allow me to continue being here.

How stupid is it to think that your words will have the effect you want when they are misleading. “Campaign for a Drug-Free America,” “Don’t Do Drugs,” “War on Drugs”: give me a break — do you really want to eliminate antibiotics, general and local anesthesias, etc. etc. etc. from our world? I don’t.

But, you counter, everyone knows what we mean. We’re talking about illegal drugs. And I say, then say what you mean. And remember, a drug can be legal and then prove dangerous and then be illegal, or a drug that is illegal in this country may be legal in many others.

So you say, everyone knows what we really mean is, don’t abuse drugs. And I say, then say what you mean. But remember, glue and aerosols are not drugs. Bath salts — Methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV)– aren’t marketed as such and have no medical use, but are closely related chemically to known dangerous and illegal street drugs. Bath salts, glues, and aerosols are chemical compounds, as are all drugs, but not all chemical compounds are drugs, right?

And some ways of altering consciousness, like the so-called choking or fainting game, involve no external chemicals.

Warning kids how stupid it is to cut off the supply of oxygen to their brains — does that fall under “drug” education? If not, where does it belong?

This is why I think we need to ditch “drug” education and get to the core. For lack of a better phrase, I’m going with Will Kill. The longer version is, sooner or later, unless you are luckier than a mega-lottery winner, doing these things will kill you. Death may be immediate, or protracted and painful. But you will die.

I’d explain it using Russian roulette as an analogy but for the problem that some might want to give that a whirl. So, unless I lived on Sand Mountain, I’d use a box of deadly vipers as my analogy. Imagine a closed box of poisionous snakes. You can’t see them, but there is a portal big enough for you to stick your arm in. Imagine what a thrill it would be to stick your arm in and pull it out before the vipers bite. Hey, the vipers could be hibernating. You could do this dozens of times and all that would happen is the thrill would lessen. But then you could get a second box, one for each arm, or you could prod the snakes with a stick before putting your hand in. Whatever it takes to get your thrill, right?

What, you ask, do you think will eventually happen? Or, for that matter, what might happen the very first time you stick your hand in? You will get bit and you will die.

At this point, a young contrarian is going to say, I thought there were antidotes available for poisonous snake bites. Glad you brought that up. There are, and they might work for you — if they are delivered in time; if you have 911 on speed dial, the phone in your other hand, and time to call and explain if you are alone; or if you are with your pals, one is bright enough to call for help even if the others resist — but face it, they know they shouldn’t be passing around a box of vipers and so are just as likely to flee or maybe drop you off with no explanation outside a hospital, if you’re lucky. Even if you get an antidote in time not to die, you will suffer. A lot. Tell the class you’ll call around to the ICUs, see if they can put you in touch with former patients who can describe this better than you can.

So what are the Will Kills? [note the first few are not illegal and are not drugs]

  • Russian roulette
  • Choking or fainting game
  • Bath salts (so-called): these are mephedrone and methylenedioxypyrovalerone, or MDPV, marketed as bath salts in head shops, labeled “not for human consumption” and legal in all but two US states.* According to the NY Times:

    Poison control centers around the country received 3,470 calls about bath salts from January through June, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, up from 303 in all of 2010. . . . Mark Ryan, the director of the Louisiana Poison Center, said some doctors had turned to powerful antipsychotics to calm users after sedatives failed. “If you take the worst attributes of meth, coke, PCP, LSD and ecstasy and put them together,” he said, “that’s what we’re seeing sometimes.” . . . Dr. Frank LoVecchio, an emergency room doctor at Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center in Phoenix, said he had to administer general anesthesia in recent weeks to bath salt users so agitated that they did not respond to large doses of sedatives.

  • Aerosols [for example, aerosolized keyboard cleaners] and glue sniffing (do it long enough, and you will destroy your liver)
  • Street (cooked) meth
  • Crack.

Note what isn’t here: marijuana, cigarettes, alcohol, etc. They belong to a different category: Things that might or might not eventually damage your future or destroy your health, either directly (alcohol) or indirectly (marijuana’s legal status).

Educating kids effectively isn’t so hard. Decide what is most important, respect their intelligence, and say what you mean. Listening to the buzz matters: if there is chatter about choking/fainting games or Pixie Dust/Cloud 9, etc. toss your agenda for the day and get down to it: what brain damage is like, or life on the psych ward, or what it feels like to have a large-bore IV started in the ambulance while you are hallucinating. Kids have great imaginations.

*Common names: MDPK, MTV, Magic, Maddie, Black Rob, Super Coke, PV, Aura, Blue Silk, Bonzai Grow, Charge Plus, Euphoria, Hurricane Charlie, Ivory Wave, Lovey Dovey, Ocean, Pixie Dust, Red Dove, Scarface, Vanilla Sky, White Dove, White Girl, White Lightning, Cloud 9.

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