EVERY PAREN T WAN TS to believe he or she’d know right away if a child was
getting into trouble, but as Charlotte Long’s story suggests, this is often
not the case. “Part of being a drug addict is you have to lie and deceive
the people closest to you,” says therapist David Frankel. “I’ve had kids in
my practice who are using heroin and lying to me and it’s even taken me
a while to figure it out, so I have a lot of sympathy for parents and how
hard it can be to spot.”
One strong tip-off, though, is a pattern of untruthfulness or secrecy,
he says. “You might see a flurry of little lies, things that don’t add up, and
then when you ask about them, you get seemingly nonsensical reasons
why the kid’s not telling the truth,” Frankel says.
Other signs to watch for include declining grades, withdrawal from
friends, or physical changes like lethargy or gaining or losing weight.
But don’t be fooled by the myth that drug use is associated with kids
who are “screwups,” says Frankel. “Many kids with drug problems are
quite high achieving, and kids who use drugs seriously over time get
better at hiding it.”
FEW TOPICS CAN turn a room of Marin high school parents tense as
quickly as allegations of stimulant abuse. That’s what I heard from a
number of parents and kids, reluctant to speak out for fear of angering
or betraying friends and peers.
“When parents see their kid, who is brilliant and has always gotten
perfect grades, suddenly start struggling in AP calculus, they decide some-
thing’s wrong with him and call a doctor, who then feels persuaded to
prescribe drugs,” says one parent, echoing comments by dozens more.
“Good parents are being told it’s the right thing to do. It’s not like
they’re drug seeking and trying to trick the doctors; it’s the situation,
the workload, the expectations, this whole stressed-out equation,”
another parent says.
Of course, there are also kids who are getting pills illegally, often from
friends selling their own prescriptions. At some high schools, the use of
ADD meds as study aids is so widespread that kids who choose not to use
them actually feel at a disadvantage, some students told me. “I am quite
literally the only person I know my age who got through high school and
college without trying Adderall, and that is not an exaggeration,” says
one Tam High grad.
The trend has become pronounced enough that this spring
Partnership for Drug-Free Kids released a short documentary, Breaking
Points, highlighting the ways teens use stimulants to cope with stress and
pressure and offering healthier solutions.
This phenomenon has serious consequences for kids with legitimate
learning disabilities, for whom the medications are intended to help level
the playing field. If already high-achieving kids are also taking these
medications, then it negates the benefit for the kids who actually need it,
say several parents disturbed by the situation.
Many parents also mistakenly believe so-called “smart drugs” aren’t
addictive, says Sheff. “I meet kids in treatment all the time who took
Adderall to help with school, then couldn’t stop. They go through withdrawal and get super anxious, and then they either start taking it again
or they take something else to calm down.”
THERE’S NO QUESTION that for many of those interviewed for this story,
the summer party bus incident was a dispiriting sign that Marin has a
long way to go to get a handle on the teen drug crisis. But it is also putting
the topic on the table in a big way, Matt Willis says.
“Sadly, for many of us who do this work, incidents like this party
TEENS NEED TO HEAR THAT THIS IS A BIG DEAL.
bus [discovery] don’t come as a surprise anymore,” says Willis.
“We already know this is a huge issue. But thankfully tragedy was
averted this time, and at least now we can use this as a catalyst for impor-
In August, a town hall meeting brought together public health offi-
cials, the school districts, and numerous task forces to discuss the party
bus incident and look at next steps to prevent another such situation. “We
hope this will be the beginning of putting together an overall strategy of
safety,” says Mary Jane Burke, superintendent of schools.
— MARY JANE BURKE, SUPERINTENDENT OF SCHOOLS
— DAVID FRANKEL, CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST
KIDS WILL DO ANYTHING TO GET AHEAD, SO IF
TAKING A STIMULANT GIVES YOU AN ADVANTAGE,
WHY WOULDN’T YOU? — ANONYMOUS STUDENT