Room 473-B
State House
Boston, MA 02133
Telephone: (617) 722-2230
District Office
585A Main St.
Winchester, MA 01890
Telephone: (617) 721-7285 or (617) 438-7185

A View from the Hill

CONTACT: Tommy Voltero (617) 722-2240


Prom and graduation season is supposed to be a time of happiness and celebration for our young people as one aspect of their lives ends to make way for a new one. Too often, however, a terrible tragedy- one usually involving drugs and alcohol- turns this season of festivity into one of mourning. I dread opening the newspaper the morning after graduation because I know that somewhere, the life of a teenager has been cut tragically short when it should have been just beginning.

Substance abuse is one of the greatest hazards placed in the path of our young people today. Every year, thousands and thousands of children, teens, and young adults are killed by nameless, faceless substances called drugs and alcohol.

It is startling to learn about the dangerous chemicals that our children are putting into their bodies on a weekly basis, and shocking to hear about it happening close to home. An important survey performed by the Winchester Substance Abuse Coalition recently confirmed that our kids are engaging in perilous behavior, and they are doing it right here in our own backyards. This study should be a clarion call for all of us to look at what our children are putting into their bodies and figure out why they are doing it.

Many of us are already familiar with some of the substances being used by our young people. Alcohol, as we know, is the drug of choice for most teenagers and young adults. High percentages of this age group report using alcohol on a weekly basis, often in dangerous quantities. Tobacco products are also popular among kids, with 3,000 children becoming addicted every single day. Marijuana has been a consistent favorite as well, with several students reporting frequent use throughout high school and college.

Unlike these "common" drugs, however, there are other substances being consumed that most people have no knowledge of- including the people who are using them. Everyone knows about alcohol, but how many parents know what "roofies" are? Who has ever heard of "Liquid G" and "Ecstasy," and who knows what they really do to the human body? Unfortunately, most people do not. Yet, it is precisely these kinds of drugs that have been gaining popularity in the last 5 years in our country among teens and young adults. For that reason, it is important that we "read up" on these substances so that we can tell our children how dangerous they really are.

Rohypnol, known on the streets as "roofies," "mexican valium," and "R-2," is commonly called the "date rape drug." A derivative of valium, it is a small white tablet that is usually slipped into a drink without the consumer's knowledge. "Roofies" cause drowsiness, impaired judgement, amnesia, and sometimes death. Often, the person who unsuspectingly ingests the drug passes out and has no recollection of what happened the night before, giving Rohypnol its reputation as a "date rape" drug. "Liquid G" is Gamma Hydroxybutyric Acid (GHB), also known as "Liquid Ecstasy," "Liquid E," and "Grievous Bodily Harm." It usually comes in liquid form in a small plastic bottle, although it can also be a white powder. Its effects, which are similar to those of alcohol, also include amnesia, decreased cardiac output, seizures, coma., and death. During the 1980s, GHB was widely available in health food stores where it was purchased by body builders for possible fat reduction and muscle building. Due to the number of overdoses, however, the FDA banned over-the-counter uses, and Congress recently defined it as a "Schedule 1" drug (which includes heroin and LSD) at the end of 1999.

The scientific name for "Ecstasy" is methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA). MDMA is a "designer" drug, meaning that it is a variation of another drug, "doctored" by underground chemists. This drug, structurally similar to methamphetamine and the hallucinogen mescaline, stimulates the central nervous system by causing brain cells to release neurotransmitters called seratonin, causing an enhanced feeling of pleasure and well-being. Users of MDMA report that they feel more self-confident, more empathetic, and more "accepted" under its influence. It is most often used while at "raves" (large dance parties usually held in warehouses) or techno clubs. The downsides of MDMA range from moodiness and depression to severe dehydration, permanent brain damage, renal failure, and death.

Given the extraordinary dangers of these drugs, we should wonder why kids continue to use them. One reason, of course, is that substance abuse is promoted in our society as something positive. When MTV airs its annual "Spring Break" program, which shows college students drinking and having a good time, it tells our kids that drinking equals fun. Beer and liquor commercials equating alcohol with masculinity, sexual potency, and popularity do the same. Combined with a "culture of conformity" that is especially powerful in middle and high school due to adolescent insecurity, it is no surprise that many children abuse drugs and alcohol.

Unfortunately, many children never develop the self-confidence that is necessary to interact socially without doing what everyone else is doing. They think that if they are not doing what the crowd does then there is something wrong with them. We see how quickly fads and crazes take control of our children, with kids telling us that they "need" to have Beanie Babies and Pokemon cards because all their friends do. By the time these kids reach junior and senior high school, where keg parties and the "in" crowd dominate, much of the groundwork for substance abuse has already been laid (just this weekend, dozens of high school students were arrested at Foxboro Stadium for drug and alcohol related charges).

There is no magic law that can solve this problem. The most that the government can do is educate people about the dangers of drugs and prosecute those who possess them, both of which are the first and last steps, respectively.

The "middle ground" between education and incarceration is the area that we should really be focusing our attention on. This area contains of all of those day-to-day experiences and encounters that our children will have with drugs and alcohol as they grow up. It is during this period that our children will develop their own values and principles, and discover where their place is in this world. When television and peer pressure replace family and individualism, our children become less capable of standing apart and resisting substance abuse.

Fortunately, people are indeed fighting back against substance abuse on this level. In Winchester, no one fought harder than Randy Swartz, whose tireless dedication gave birth to the Substance Abuse Coalition. Despite the fact that Randy was taken from us tragically a couple of weeks ago, the Coalition will continue to battle substance abuse with the same energy and devotion that he exemplified over the years. Randy understood that the community had a major role to play in preventing substance abuse, both on the macro and micro levels. He knew that something as small as a talk between father and son, mother and daughter, or big brother to little brother could prevent kids from using drugs and alcohol. His contribution to the community was to share this knowledge with others, and for that, he will always be remembered.

I urge all of us to follow Randy's example by remaining vigilant about substance abuse in our communities. There is something we can do about it. Our children can have healthy social lives without putting chemicals in their bodies. It is up to us to talk to them, and more importantly, to listen to them. This is not a time for excuses or postponement until "tomorrow." We need to understand what they are going through, and show them that we care. We have to tell them that it is alright to be different, that blindly following the crowd often leads one to crash into a wall. Perhaps we could share with them some wisdom imparted by the great American poet, Robert Frost in "The Road Not Taken":

Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I - I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference."

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