Are Drugs an Epidemic in Missoula High Schools?


Birthday edition rolling papers. An expert from the Harvard School of Public Health says “tobacco companies are targeting youth in the U.S. as well. As recently as 2005 R.J. Reynolds was adding flavors — such as orange-mint, chocolate, and vanilla — to its Camel cigarettes to increase their appeal to youth and first-time smokers.” Companies target kids by adding flavors or “limited edition” products.

Savannah Hauglum, Editor-in-chief

When you think about high school, entering a new time of your life comes to mind. Along with that comes meeting new people and being exposed to all kinds of new things. Including new ideas, new challenges, and new activities. And drugs.

Drugs and substance abuse are problems at Big Sky, but also in all the schools across Missoula. According to Sam Arcand, Project Success Coordinator, “there’s been an increase in substance abuse which has mostly been prescription pills but some drugs are also in trends.”

What she means is that drugs come in trends. During different time periods, certain drugs become popular with people and eventually the use of those drugs go down while another drug becomes the trend.

According to a survey given to 116 students in Senior English classes, 41.3% have never tried drugs in their four years of high school, 17.2% have tried it but do not currently use, 27.6% are occasional users and 13.8% are habitual users, meaning they use several times a week.

Even though almost half of the senior class hasn’t tried any recreational drugs, “they are often the most overlooked because there’s a lot of focus of the kids who are doing drugs” says Arcand. “People get on the subject of drugs, and think of certain students or people who do drugs and end up thinking that everyone does it. But a lot of students will never try it.”

However, if our survey is correct, almost half of seniors do use.

Joe*, Senior at Big Sky, said “I didn’t do it for too long, just freshmen and sophomore year. But I see it everywhere and doubt it’s gonna slow down.”

Principal Natalie Jaeger says “During my four years here, there have been students caught with drugs or selling drugs on campus. My first month year, a student was caught selling drugs on campus.”

Kaden*, also a Senior at Big Sky says “I’ve tried just about everything that there is to try but I’ve completely stopped off this year. I see drugs as sad or depressing. It’s almost a widely accepted social act of escapism. I’ve spent a lot of time seeking out substances and a few experiences have allowed me to see why people use substances.”

Kaden says people use substances to escape their problems or try to get rid of their sadness through drugs.

Arcand confirms that there are a lot of reasons for using substances or drugs but mental health plays a huge role. “For sure mental health plays a part in drug use.”

This means trouble because not only are our programs for substance abuse being cut, our mental health programs are also being cut, Arcand says. “Cuts have made it almost impossible to get help and we’re going to see a lot of backlash from that for sure”

Services to help with drug use are facing budget cuts. “Because of our horrible fire season, the state didn’t have enough revenue so there wasn’t enough funds” says Logan Cook, Clinical Director of Outpatient Services of Western Montana Mental Health Substance Use Services

“The state has received budget cuts to several departments including human services which deals with mental health and drug use. Programs no longer can provide services like group therapy which is used for substance abuse. People are being sent to residential based treatment and out of place treatments which ends up costing more money. That being said, a lot of people with substance abuse problems can’t afford treatment and therefore can’t get help or treatment.” says Cook

“The only reason we know about certain incidents is because a student came and talked to us.” said Jaeger. The best thing we can do as for our school is go to one of the two when we know something or feel like something should be brought to attention.

*names have been changed to protect our source’s identity