I was talking to a friend the other day who works as a youth minister for a church. I asked him what the biggest issues the teens in his community are dealing with.
His answer came quickly.
“Drugs,” he said.
He detailed the overwhelming prevalence of prescription drugs, and went on to tell me stories about “Skittles parties,” in which everyone comes with an assortment of pills pilfered from medicine cabinets. They are thrown into a bowl, and each partygoer swallows a handful and “sees what happens.” Of course this creates a conundrum for EMTs, because if a kid overdoses or has a severe reaction, they have no idea how to proceed with treatment, since there’s no way to know what they ingested. “We’ve had some close calls,” said my friend.
Heroin and cocaine also have clawed their way into the lives of the teens my friend works with, but the prescription drugs are the easy entry vehicle. Packaged in medicine bottles and dispersed by physicians, they seem safer. Vicodin, for instance, is innocently offered as a way to fight the pain of a football injury. It doesn’t take long for a habit to form. The going rate for one pill is $25. All this in a small town community that looks more like a Rockwell painting than a crime-stained inner city neighborhood.
And the types of kids caught up in it are as varied as the drugs themselves. The stereotypical stoners partake, of course, but also athletes, A-students, and kids involved in the choir and school plays.
After hearing all this, I asked, “So, what do you think is causing all of this?”
“Busyness,” came his quick reply. “They’re overscheduled and overwhelmed. There’s just too much stuff. These kids are under enormous pressure to do well in sports, academics, you name it. We’ve had some pretty successful football teams the past few years and there’s a lot of community pressure to do well, and play at any cost. High schoolers are expected to be on the expensive and time-intensive traveling teams in order to even have a chance of playing on the varsity level. We even have a traveling soccer team for three-year-olds. The kids don’t have time to just be…kids.
“When I was a kid,” he continued, “I remember just hanging out with my friends. We’d ride our bikes to some woods nearby and spend the day exploring. Or we’d hang out at each other’s house, playing video games. We’d get into discussions. These days, kids don’t have the time to figure out who they are.”
His diagnosis struck me as tragically simple and sadly accurate. The childhood of his past resembled my own. I was involved in sports and did well in school. But my days weren’t packed with the relentless activity of today’s youth. I didn’t save my allowance for some pill but for a box of baseball cards in the hopes that I might unwrap an elusive Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card. Traveling teams were around, but reserved only for those who had a reasonable shot at playing semi-professional baseball; my summer days were spent playing home run derby with friends in the tennis court near my home.
The contrast between then and now disturbs me. Surely I am too young to feel like one of those old codgers regaling anyone who’d listen with stories that begin with “When I was your age…”
I mean, Ken Griffey Jr. is still an active major leaguer, for crying out loud!
My friend added one more observation. He noted that the kids who seem the most well-adjusted are the ones who spend time fishing and hunting. Naturally, I reasoned: Those are activities with built-in downtime. (More than anyone who enjoys them would like, I am sure.)
Blame can be spread far and wide, of course. Overfishing. Ineffective lures. Oh wait, let’s get back to the drug problem.
The fact is this: with an alarming rate, drugs are becoming the antidote of choice to a life suffocated by busyness. Far from a teenage problem, it’s impacting adults as well.
I find it interesting that almost everyone complains of busyness created by an overpacked schedule, but we treat it as a minor annoyance, resigned to the belief that there is nothing we can do about it.
We remain completely unaware that it is slowly and surely killing us.
So we finally have a problem that doesn’t require the allocation of more federal funds or the organization of an extension anti-drug program. All we need is the desire and the decision to… Simply. Do. Less.
The question is, do we have the will? Your answer is a matter of life and death.
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