Admit it: Most of us in the youth field owe our jobs to appalling government and institutional dereliction. The abject failure of American authorities to face the soaring deterioration in adult attitudes and behaviors over the past 40 years has spawned a host of spinoff problems that thousands of youth programs exist to manage.
Modern grownups’ epidemics of drug and alcohol abuse, felonies, imprisonments, HIV infection, family instability and rank personal selfishness underlie every “youth crisis,” from inner-city shootings to rural car wrecks. I doubt I’m alone in how often I’ve thought: If I had to live in that kid’s house, I’d be gulping more drugs than she is.
So the growth industries among us should rejoice over the latest atrocity. America’s troika of government, institutional and media denial has sunk to yet another low in refusing to face a burgeoning social crisis that’s hell on kids.
Yes, the crisis is drug abuse – again. Leonard Paulozzi, a medical epidemiologist with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), warned Congress in October that drug overdose deaths have exploded to “historic highs.” Drug death “rates are currently more than twice what they were during the peak years of crack cocaine mortality in the early 1990s, and four to five times higher than the rates during the year of heroin mortality peak in 1975,” he testified.
That’s right: Today’s deadly drug crisis is worse than the crack epidemic.
The CDC’s newest mortality report, issued in January, revealed that illicit-drug overdose deaths tripled from 1990 to 2005, hitting a record 33,500. That tops fatalities caused by murder, suicide, AIDS and even guns. Drug abuse is the single biggest factor that has driven the U.S. prison and jail population to a peak of 2.3 million. It is wrecking families, fostering urban gun violence, blowing tens of billions of dollars in incarceration costs, and stuffing foster care systems with the abused and neglected children of addicts.
The response to this national emergency? Silence. Congress, White House drug czar John Walters, big institutions, drug legalization lobbies and the press ignored Paulozzi’s warning. My Internet group, http://YouthFacts.org, sent news releases about the CDC’s findings to major media outlets – the ones so obsessed with drugs that they balloon ballplayer steroid use, celebrity dopers and teen cough syrup highs into national headlines. Again, nothing.
Paulozzi’s matter-of-fact testimony revealed the reason: “The group at highest risk for drug poisoning death is middle-aged men, the same demographic group that historically has had high rates of fatal heroin overdoses. Rates were higher for whites than for African-Americans.”
Amazing. While White House anti-drug ads and polemics have vilified young folks for murdering babies, wrecking communities, destroying lives and bankrolling terrorists with their street-drug and illicit-pharmaceutical habits, the real druggies are middle-aged white men – President Bush’s most faithful demographic.
That’s why silence prevails. The wrong people are abusing drugs. Sure, those in power bellow endlessly about any social problem they can pin on powerless groups: crack (blamed on inner-city minorities), AIDS (gay men), guns (black kids) and anything that seems “teenage.”
But a skyrocketing white, middle-aged drug crisis killing Americans at seven times the rate found in other Western nations? They just can’t see it. No matter who gets hurt, children included.
Bush, finally mentioning the burgeoning drug crisis in late February, regurgitated the official deception that “young Americans” who “do not understand how dangerous abusing medication can be” are the reason that “the number of Americans who have died from prescription drug overdoses has increased.” In fact, people under age 25 account for fewer than 10 percent of pharmaceutical deaths. Covering up the administration’s disastrous incompetence by scapegoating kids should bring charges of treason.
But that’s the kind of society America is. Until someone important connives a way to score bucks, votes and fawning press from a social crisis, the crisis doesn’t exist. It’s no wonder Paulozzi predicted the drug abuse epidemic will get even worse.
So, consider the upside: The drug crisis among parents will yield many thousands more afflicted youths who require services. Job security for youth workers! Break out the $3.99 champagne!
Americans’ bizarre indifference to our young people, families and communities has made youth programs a multibillion-dollar industry. Those willing to tamely flatter official prejudices grab the headlines and funding even as more people, young and old, suffer.
It’s time for us to question whether many youth programs’ tactics – basically, “Give us money! We’ll fix it!” – ultimately perpetuate what is worst about America.