U.S. faces ‘worst public health epidemic’ in 100 years
While Stutman acknowledged “good news,” that in the past 15 years studies have shown a decrease in experimental drug use in the United States, he stressed that’s only partially true.
“The second half is the number of drug addicts in the United States of America age 12 and over has doubled in the past 15 years – we have gone from 8.7 million drug addicts in the United States age 12 and over to almost 19 million,” he said. “They forget to tell you that part.”
Also underreported, he said, is that the United States, with 4.5 percent of the world’s population, consumed 63 percent of all of the illegal drugs produced in the entire world last year.
“They forget to tell you that using any measure of any standard – medical, legal, ethical, moral – we are in the middle of what may be the worst public health epidemic we’ve had in the United States in the past 100 years,” Stutman said. “And that epidemic is adolescent substance abuse and we pretend it’s not happening.”
But it is happening in Wisconsin high schools, and DSHA and MUHS are no exception. After Stutman spoke at the DSHA and MUHS all-school assemblies, he spoke with students who voluntarily met in confidential, small groups devoid of faculty or parents, where they could ask Stutman questions and talk about their drug and alcohol use.
Beware of newly emerging group of drugs
Pharmaceutical drugs, or prescription pills, and a newly emerging group of drugs encompass those mentioned by students. “Salvia,” “O.C.s,” “fruit salad,” “roxies,” “pharming” and “backpacking” are the six that surfaced from both schools, all of which were unknown to the parents in the audience.
“And yet, this was your average, what? 15-, 16-year-old who talked about it with me,” Stutman said.
Robert Stutman urges parents to:
Salvia was the first drug about which students of DSHA asked Stutman in the small group setting, but both groups discussed with him the highs they experienced from this drug. Scientifically known as Salvia Divinorum, it is a potent hallucinogen that is dried and smoked, baked or brewed into tea, and what Stutman described as a mini-version of LSD legal in 36 states and federally.
The 12-15-minute high that results from its use is intense and scares kids, but they continue to use drugs like Salvia because of the feelings they cause.
“All 15 year olds have two, very similar problems: Number one, self-liking problems – ‘I don’t like myself, too tall, too short, too skinny, too fat,’” Stutman said. “Second one: every one of your 15-year-old kids wants to be liked by their friends. They want to be OK with the people they want to be OK with,” which is what drugs like ecstasy, known as the “hug drug,” do – take away self-doubt, make them feel like they love each other and feel great about themselves, he said.
Know a dope peddler?
Look in the mirror
But one of the main concerns today, according to Stutman, is the use of pharmaceutical drugs, which have become the national drugs of choice and what kids have begun using in lieu of almost everything else.
“For an old DEA guy, for me, this is a killer. You know why? There ain’t no dope peddlers, virtually, for this stuff,” Stutman said. “… You know who the dope peddlers are? Look in the mirror. It comes from your medicine chest.”
The three most popular pharmaceutical drugs of choice nationally are Adderall and Ritalin, used to treat attention deficit disorders, which Stutman described as the most widely prescribed drugs for adolescents in the United States; and OxyContin, a pain reliever that controls pain for up to 12 hours.
“The high to these kids is warmth, safety and well being,” Stutman said.
Stutman said a Burlington High School student described how he felt when he used OxyContin.
“He looked at me and he said, ‘It’s like being held in my mother’s arms,’” quoted Stutman, who compared it to a mother hugging a baby to quiet its cries. “… I can now chemically replicate that for your 16-year-old.”
No child is immune
Stutman noted that no child is immune from the United States’ drug problem based on ethnicity, geography, the schools they attend – private or public, their athletic ability, intelligence or a parent saying, “My kid’s too smart to let that happen.”
He warned parents about mistakenly leaving his presentation uttering “the three killer words, ‘But, thank God, not my kid.’”
“We all think it’s not our kid, because we all think we’re different. We think the drug addicts in the United States are them and them is whoever we aren’t,” he said.
But for Mike Kiefer, the widowed father of four, Maddie was that kid.
“It’s hard to believe it could happen in your house, but it can,” Kiefer said. “And I had to try to look at her objectively and not be naïve to what was going on.”
Of his four children, Hailey, the second oldest, and Madison, the second youngest, had problems with drugs and alcohol. They had the same parents, same life experiences, including losing their mother to cancer, same house, same grade school and same background, but went in two different directions and that left Kiefer wondering how they got to that point.
He first noticed Hailey’s problem when she was a freshman in high school; she had new friends, bad grades and change in attitude. He took her to a pediatrician, a psychologist and then a psychiatrist who couldn’t help her because her drugs were stronger than what he could prescribe. At age 51, Kiefer walked away from his job of 18 years, a secure, fairly compensated job he loved, so he could focus on his family situation.
After unsuccessful intensive outpatient therapy, he got Hailey admitted to Aurora Psychiatric Hospital where she spent seven nights: she got stoned and drunk her first night out, and he received a $14,000 invoice.
“You’re going through this, you’re trying to figure out what’s right to do in the situation, it evolves and you don’t know what’s right,” Kiefer said.
‘In Jesuit spirit,’ friends help out
Kiefer convinced Hailey to voluntarily go to therapeutic boarding school last September, where she completed one year, before he pulled her out of the program. His friends from out of state whose son graduated from MUHS, and with whom he hasn’t been in touch for six years, volunteered, “in the great Jesuit spirit,” to take Hailey for two years. “(They) said, ‘We know she may not be safe coming back to Whitefish Bay. We’ll raise her here,’ and they’ve done just that and she’s been out for six weeks and has been clean and continues on the road to recovery. She’s still fragile, but at least I have hope that this is going to get better,” he said during the presentation.
When Maddie’s problem surfaced, Kiefer moved faster to get her help because he had experience with Hailey. They worked with the pediatrician, psychologist and psychiatrist simultaneously, moved into intensive outpatient treatment and set her up with a therapeutic placement, touring a few facilities just days before she died.
“On Saturday the decision was made that the following Tuesday we’d put her in and she would go and she would agree to it. She was watched all day Saturday, tucked her into bed Saturday night, turned off the lights in my house, locked the door and that’s the last I ever saw her alive.” he said.
Kiefer urged parents to be diligent with their children “I know you love them, but that doesn’t mean they’re not stoned. I know they might have good grades. I know they might be a good athlete, a pretty girl, a great student, whatever it may be and a very social, pleasant person to be around,” he said. “…Don’t think it can’t happen here. It can and it does and we need to be diligent every day.”
Community can’t ignore issue
Fr. Jerry Herda, pastor of St. Monica Parish, said the parish school graduate’s death left great sorrow, sadness and a bit of shock in the parish community, but it also sent a message.
“As a community, we can’t ignore the issues and we need to continue to love our children and recognize when they need help and not put it off and get them the help that they need,” he said.
Bill Henkle, principal of Whitefish Bay High School, said that Maddie’s death had a profound impact on the school and community, but it also heightened the awareness of the drug and alcohol abuse issue.
“It’s all the more a problem now in terms of what kids are getting involved with and the ages at which they are getting involved,” he said. “They’re getting involved in more dangerous things and they’re getting involved with them earlier in their lives.”
Following her death, a parent-led group called Bay United formed with the purpose of addressing these issues and bringing the community together and the school took steps to help everybody become better informed by looking for ways to bring in outside resources that benefit staff, parents and students.
Solution begins with family
As a high school principal, Henkle understands the important role schools play, but he also realizes something that Stutman pointed out to the parents – it must start in the family.
“While schools really have an important role to play, I think the parent-child relationship is the most important,” Henkle said. “And that’s why to just try to do everything you can as a parent, to develop a good relationship that will allow you to hopefully steer your children clear of those bad paths, but if they start going down them, to at least be heads up on that because the sooner you can intervene, the better.”
He and his wife practice something with their four children that people may consider “an invasion of their privacy”; they keep the family computer in their bedroom and pay close attention to what the children are doing.
“Get in their bedrooms, check things out … look around, don’t be oblivious to the fact that they might have drugs in their bedroom, that they might have an extraordinary amount of money in their bedroom or wherever they hang out,” Henkle said. “Pay attention to what’s going on with the phones, with the computers and they may not appreciate that, but I think if you start that early on and just make that the practice, then they’re used to it.”
Maddie’s death left a scar on the community, but it’s one that Stutman said shouldn’t be hidden beneath proverbial clothing. For Kiefer to speak in front of DSHA and MUHS parents took guts, but the benefits were priceless, according to Stutman.
“No kid should die from drugs or alcohol, but if, God forbid, they do, we should not lose the lesson that we can learn from that child,” Stutman said.
“The big way of making this problem better is not in your schools, it is you,” Stutman said. “You guys are the ones that will make the difference. Listen to your kids, care about them, take an interest, start talking to them.”