We need to talk about substance use. But town halls don’t work. It’s time to think outside the box.

Staff editorial

We all know the murmurs that emerge from students as soon as a DARE officer or administrator starts lecturing us about drug use. We all know it’s a serious topic, but coming from people who most likely have never done drugs or had to overcome addiction, it’s hard to take it seriously. Instead of an educational meeting, it morphs into a parent telling us: “Drugs are bad. Don’t do them.”

Although DARE is now only a memory, athletes still hear the drug discipline policy every Meet the Team night. Freshmen get the traditional spiel during orientation on not doing drugs and being accountable for themselves. It seems we don’t have as many talks about drugs as before, but with good reason. Principal Andrew Theado said the school has been trying to take a more individual approach.

But while an individual approach focused on rehabilitation rather than punishment is a right step forward to tackling substance use at our school, we need larger discussions. No, don’t bring back monthly town halls. What is important is to expose students to reality—to the reality of addiction, the reality of withdrawal and the reality of what substance use can do to our lives. We need speakers at our high school who have gone through these things. Because when someone is talking about the pain of stopping and the struggle of staying sober for years, it’s not so easy to laugh anymore.

We shouldn’t stop there.

As James Jarvis, the president of the Ohio Vapor Trade Association, said in this issue’s spotlight “The New Smoke,” the association is considering working with health organizations to bring vaping prevention talks and workshops to high schools. These are insiders to the industry who don’t want teenagers vaping, and their voice is one that might be heard more.

The problem with town halls is their lack of intimacy. There is no possibility of having a conversation. On the first day of school, rather than sitting freshmen through a detached presentation, the school should invite people who truly understand substance abuse to speak in small workshops—in groups of 40 or 50—to forge a real connection. These speakers can also become resources for students who are using substances and are thinking of stopping.

UAHS student resource officer Jon Rice said he has had students ask him foradvice on how to quit substances or drop by his office for a casual conversation. But some might be scared about going face-to-face with a police officer, so having these speakers could provide students someone to reach out to—someone who can help them quit, knowing from experience the difficulties, relapses and withdrawal symptoms that often come.

Einstein once famously said that insanity is trying the same thing over and over expecting a different outcome. Town halls don’t work. We need to innovate. Students are much more aware of the harms of substance use than adults might think. The discussion needs to be moved forward, and the best way is by bringing those who have overcome addictions to lead the conversation forward.