The Right Start was, I believe, an integral part of my life long before it became a program designed to help college students make good decisions about drug use and alcohol abuse. I was given wonderful parents who loved me and built a home around faith, family and country. I was given the right start in life by God, my grandparents and my parents. They saw to it that I was safe, well cared for, well educated and had all the opportunities they could provide. They had confidence that I would do the right thing much of the time and that in turn gave me confidence that I could make good decisions. They blended high expectations with real accountability and that kept me centered through my teen years and young adulthood.
If drugs were around when I was in high school, I never knew it. However, alcohol offered an early visit to adulthood that distracted many of my friends. I always felt that they just didn’t get the right start that I had been afforded. College in the 60’s brought with it strange odors, erratic behaviors and hushed words like marijuana, cocaine, heroin and LSD.
From my early teaching and coaching years throughout my three decades as Head of School the list of illegal drugs has gotten longer and more deadly, the age of users is younger and the lives damaged and destroyed by addiction and dependency has reached epidemic levels. Today more young people are killed or seriously injured by drug use and alcohol abuse than by any other cause. Since the legalization of marijuana for recreational use by several states, young people view marijuana as less risky and use has increased dramatically. The improper use and abuse of prescription meds is rivaling the broad use of marijuana and is responsible for thousands of deaths each month. Sexual assault on college campuses is at an all time high and more often than not involves illegal drug use and alcohol abuse. The national conversation is more focused on treatment than on deterrence. My focus is and will always be prevention of addiction, dependence and even death due to substance abuse.
Throughout most of my years leading schools, the conventional wisdom was to educate students on drug prevention. Sadly, it took me 28 years to realize that my students were thinking more about popularity than prevention. Far more important to them than the risk of the deadly effects of prescription drugs, the unprecedented purity of heroin and the destructive force of high content marijuana on their undeveloped adolescent minds was “would they be seen as cool by their peers, would they be invited back and that drugs won’t hurt them.” They felt they were indestructible and would live forever. I remember those days but only vaguely. Don’t get me wrong, education is an important part of the solution but only a part. If it were the only answer necessary I would be leading another school right now.
If I could stop high school drug use and now even middle school drug use, I had to do it. I knew that was to be my mission. For my students to have the right start at life it had to be drug and alcohol free. Little did I know that the answer to this puzzle was right in front of my eyes. In fact I used this method of behavior modification everyday – accountability. But could it be possible to truly hold my students accountable for decisions made at the party and when no one was looking. I found a science that could identify drug use and alcohol abuse for a three month period. It required only a small snip of hair to protect every student in my school. It did not take away their free will, but it sure made them pause knowing that someone who cared about them would know – their parents and their school.
Today I travel from coast to coast consulting with schools and colleges in the prevention of substance use and abuse. Deterrence is accomplished by real accountability provided by the Psychemedics hair test. I often pose the question, “If not we, then who?”
Dr. George B. Elder