Officials, parents look for ways to fight youth drug abuse
This is Part II of a story in the Malibu Times on drug use amongst Malibu’s youth. The lack of activities for Malibu’s youth is one reason cited for drug use among local teens. One organization recommends that parents drug test their children.
Some have called the usage and sale of drugs at Malibu High School an “epidemic,” and others do not believe the problem to be as severe, but all believe juvenile drug use is a problem that exists not only at Malibu High School, but across the entire nation.
The issue has ignited questions about Malibu High School’s current efforts to keep drugs off campus, and what the community at large can do to combat drug use amongst its youth. While the school offers some programs, some youth, and parents, say the programs are not working.
Principal Mark Kelly said the Malibu High offers mandatory educational drug programs, a confidential hotline and drug counseling. An assembly is held at the beginning of each school year to inform students of the consequences and policies of possessing illegal substances on school grounds, Kelly said, adding that the school offers counseling and a confidential tip line that is published in students’ books and on posters around campus.
Programs offered at the school include The Boys and Girls Club Teen Center and Angels at Risk, which offer mentoring, counseling and various activities for junior high and high school students. There is also a support group on campus for students dealing with chemical dependency in the family and the Malibu/Lost Hill’s Sheriff’s Station offers STAR, a drug abuse prevention program offered for middle schoolers. Many of these programs are funded by the nonprofit organizations Malibu Foundation for Youth and Families, and the Shark Fund, both created by parents and concerned citizens.
However, despite all the on campus programs, some students fall through the cracks.
Drugs easy to do at school
A few Angels at Risk counselors are provided by Visions Adolescent Treatment Center, an organization that treats teenage drug and alcohol use, in various locations including in Malibu. The center also offers a “sober safe high school” called the Scholastic Academy at Visions that is attended by two former Malibu High School students who on Friday agreed to a telephone interview with The Malibu Times about the usage and vending of drugs on the school’s campus.
For security purposes, neither the names of the students nor the exact years they attended Malibu High School were disclosed. The Program director for Visions in Brentwood, confirmed that the first student, a male, attended Malibu High School within the past three years, and that the second student, a female, attended the school within the past two years.
Both students said they obtained and used drugs on campus.
The male student said he did drugs “everyday. I was supplying a lot of drugs on campus and I was getting high throughout the day when I was there. It was really easy to leave campus, so if I ran out [of drugs to sell] more were always available.”
The male student said drugs were “easy to supply, easy to get, and easy to do” on campus.
The female student said she was asked not to return to Malibu High School for ninth grade. “I was smoking weed and doing acid and mushrooms in eighth grade at Malibu High School,” she said. “I got drugs pretty much everyday on campus. I ditched class a lot and got away with it ’til the end of year.”
The students said they were not sure of how many dealers existed on campus, but they confirmed they knew more than five.
The male student said, at the time he attended Malibu High, no assemblies were held and no drug officers visited classrooms to speak with students about drugs. He acknowledged the Angels at Risk did exist, but said, “Malibu doesn’t use it as a support group; they use it as a punishment for people who get into trouble.”
The female student said the only time a counselor had ever talked to her was when someone informed them that she was hitchhiking on Pacific Coast Highway.
“They told me they were worried about me,” the female student said. “They said nothing about drugs. They never held searches and there were never any drug dogs.
“Once we had Deputy Bob come in and talk to us about drunk driving and I was really, really high during the speech that he gave,” the female student said. “It was really easy to hide and get away with.”
Peer pressure, among other reasons, they said, instigated their involvement in drugs at the school.
The male student said he never felt that “the school offered a safe place to talk about stuff;” his parents discovered his drug use after he tried to get a therapist to write him a prescription for drugs.
The parents of the female student were alerted of her drug use when authorities of the school she attended after Malibu High alerted them about photos of their daughter on an Internet site showing her smoking marijuana.
Solutions to the problem
Two full-time and one part-time security guards currently patrol the Malibu High School campus, but many say the school should install surveillance cameras to monitor student activity.
Kelly said doing so would require authorization from the school board. “That’s a little bit outside of our realm,” he said, adding that it would not be allowed for surveillance cameras to be put in school bathrooms where, many say, drugs are frequently used.
“I would love to have additional security [guards], but it is another cost at an expensive time,” Kelly said. “Do we hire security at the expense of a teacher? We have to think about that.”
Amanda Shumow, founder of Visions adolescent treatment center, said youth drug use is not exclusive to Malibu High School, and that the organization is prepared to offer the following free services to any family with a student enrolled in the school: free drug testing, free drug and alcohol abuse assessment, and an awareness workshop for parents once a month.
Shumow praised Angels at Risk, of which she is also a board member, for its weekly group meetings but said parents should drug test their children under the age of 18 for their own protection as a precautionary method, much like checking their Facebook or MySpace accounts.
Shumow said parent involvement should be mandatory when there is suspicion or actual proof that a kid is using drugs. “Parents must be held accountable,” Shumow said. “Some parents don’t listen when they are told their kid needs help by Angels at Risk. They say, “OK,” smile and walk away.
“There has to be a parental community that’s involved and in charge,” Shumow continued. “The school is an institution for education. It’s a parent’s job to know what’s going in your kid’s body and what’s going on around it.”
A commonly stated reason by some Malibu residents as to why the city’s youth becomes involved with drugs is because of a lack of alternate activities.
Boys and Girls Club President Daniel Stern, whose three children are all Malibu High School alumni, agrees.
Stern voiced the need for high school students to participate in more adult-like activities, take on more adult-like responsibilities and become more engaged in the community.
To do so, The Malibu Foundation consulted the Chamber of Commerce about job opportunities, but Stern said the city does not invest enough money in youth or families in Malibu.
“We get $12,000 from the city per year,” Stern said. “The city says they pay for lots of sports programs, which is terrific, a very good thing for young people, but everyone doesn’t make the team, everyone doesn’t want to make the team.”
Currently, Stern is primarily focused on converting the Coldwell Banker building adjacent to Legacy Park into a community center.
“There are kids who want the responsibilities of adulthood but have nothing to take on,” Stern said. “We have such incredible potential with the kids in this town.”
City Mayor Pamela Conley Ulich said Friday in a telephone interview that the city, its schools and the whole community should collaborate with experts to learn of warning signs that a student might be using drugs.
When asked of the city’s efforts to provide Malibu youth with activities, Conley Ulich listed the events Malipalooza and CineMalibu, the Library Renewal Project and the city’s potential purchase of a property on Heathercliff Road that the mayor said could be used to house a teen center.
Conley Ulich also mentioned there could be a teen center housed in the Malibu Public Library once it is remodeled, and that the Library Renewal Project will provide an alternative for youths who aren’t athletic or musical.
“The city is only as good as the people who participate,” Conley Ulich said. “I’d love to see people participate to make the city even better. Crisis is always opportunity for community to learn and be better. It’s not just Malibu, it’s the country, it’s the world.”