the grief is experienced in our community.” Willis also points out that
the data do not include cases in which high schoolers died suddenly
without a clear cause of death but drugs — or withdrawal from drugs —
may have been a factor.
In fact, if there’s one thing about the party bus incident that has Willis
most upset, it’s the deadly risk posed by the simultaneous presence of
prescription drugs and hard alcohol. “This is where we see our fatalities,”
he says. “Kids are already intoxicated and their decision-making changes.
They take a Xanax or two and that’s enough to be fatal.”
A STARTLING 24 PERCEN T of all Marin 11th graders and 15 percent of all
ninth graders surveyed by California Healthy Kids admit to using prescription drugs recreationally. Even more alarming: 16 percent of 11th
graders say they’ve used two or more drugs at the same time.
Indeed, prescription drug abuse is one of Marin’s most pressing issues.
“More than 400,000 prescriptions for painkillers, sedatives and
MARIN IS A COUN TY famous for high expectations, affluence, and a liberal
stimulants are written in Marin annually, and we only have 250,000
people total, including kids,” says Timi Leslie of the community coali-
tion RxSafe Marin. “That adds up to about 21 million pills every year
being dispensed into our community. So when you talk about avail-
ability, it’s really every where.”
And Marin is not spared from vulnerability to America’s epidemic
of opioid addiction. In the past five years, the number of young adults
seeking treatment for opiate abuse in the county has doubled. Nationally,
statistics from the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids show that nearly half
of young people who inject heroin start by abusing prescription drugs.
culture that values independence, dislikes rules and sets a high priority on
fun. In other words, it’s many of the factors that make Marin so quintessen-
tially Marin that are fueling the teen drug and alcohol crisis, experts say.
“We allow kids a lot of independence and a lot of freedom here, which
sometimes is a good thing,” says David Frankel, Ph.D., a clinical psycholo-
gist with a Marin practice who treats many teens. “But that also means a
lot of parents don’t know where their kids are much of the time.”
Part of the issue is misguided love, says David Sheff of West Marin,
author of Clean and Beautiful Boy, a memoir about his son Nic’s drug
addiction. “Parents want their child to be popular and have fun and
they don’t want the child to be mad at them so they turn a blind eye to
things,” Sheff says.
There’s also a quality in the culture here that leaves many parents
WE THINK THAT JUST BECAUSE IT COMES FROM
reluctant to take on what’s perceived as a traditional “hard line” role,
Frankel says. “Some parents are living vicariously through their kids,
or they’re trying to be a hip friend rather than a parent. In some cases, a
parent is just a big kid himself.”
Willis, who has a daughter at Drake High School, agrees: “There’s a lot
of that wanting to be ‘cool Dad,’ here.”
And even when we are concerned, we’re failing to communicate that
to our kids, Willis adds. “The data show that 53 percent of kids say that
their parents are not highly concerned about substance abuse, yet 90
percent of parents say they’re very concerned. That’s a big disconnect.”
“AT THE BEGINNING, it was very innocent, just having a few beers here
and there — this was just the norm in the culture,” says Charlotte
Long (not her real name), who was a varsity soccer star and straight-A
student when she began drinking and doing drugs in her sophomore year
at Redwood High School.
A BOTTLE IN OUR MEDICINE CABINET, IT MUST BE
SAFE. — TIMI LESLIE, CO-CHAIR OF RXSAFE MARIN
WHAT WE HAVE IS A MAJOR PROBLEM OF
PERCEPTION. — LISA MOLBERT, DIRECTOR OF
INTENSIVE OUTPATIENT SERVICES FOR MUIR WOOD
ADOLESCENT AND FAMILY SERVICES
AT THE TIME, THEY DIDN’T SEEM LIKE BAD CHOICES;
THEY FELT LIKE CHOICES THAT WOULD ALLEVIATE
THE SUFFERING I WAS FEELING.
— CHARLOTTE LONG, RECOVERING ADDICT