Keynote speaker on day two of the Cayman Captive Forum was Robert Stutman, retired US Drug Enforcement Agent and consultant on drug abuse. His powerful presentation on the state of the drug problem in today’s America could not help but disturb anyone in the audience who was a parent. And although the stats were all US-based, this article is a must-read for anyone who has children here in Cayman. Business Editor Lindsey Turnbull reports.
Lending his years of experience to schools and other entities across the US as a full-time job, Stutman said he would also be visiting with schools and the government during his stay in Cayman to ensure that his expertise in the area of drugs and substance abuse would be shared with as many ears as possible.
Cracking national attention on the issue in the US was a tough first hurdle, according to Stutman, in his crusade to educate about the dangers children there currently face by exposure to drugs.
“Our mission has single-handedly changed government policy on substance abuse in the US,” he said. “But up until now most parents would not have had a clue as to the dangers their children were in when it comes to drugs.”
Drugs that changed culture
Stutman said there were two drugs in history that changed culture – LSD and crack cocaine.
“In 1967 LSD spawned a counter culture, which changed traditional US culture; in the mid-Eighties crack femalised drug addiction, which had formerly been much more of a male condition. When women became crack addicts it broke the family home, increased violence and caused an increase in juvenile problems in America,” he said.
Stutman said the US is going through its third cultural shift due to drugs, this time with the increase in usage of marijuana.
Stutman scours the US, speaking with schoolchildren and college students at their level, without the presence of school teachers or parents, to ensure that students are comfortable and honest when speaking with him about their exposure to drugs. This has led to many graphic conversations with young people, which has in turn aided his knowledge and understanding of drug culture in the States.
He cited one such example and said he visited a Catholic girls’ school in Baltimore, Maryland, “the epitome of clean cut, wealthy students” he said.
When asked what drugs the girls were involved with Stutman said they reeled a list off that included OCs, fruit salad, roxies…names of drugs that most had not even heard of before.
“Drugs have changed,” Stutman confirmed.
What has happened to America’s youth?
The number of people addicted to drugs has increased dramatically in the last 15 years. According to statistics quoted by Stutman, the number of drug addicts in the US older than 12 in 1992 was 8.7 million; that number had increased to 19 million in 2007. Stutman then quoted a Colombia University study that found that 71 per cent of students surveyed (senior graduates across the country) said that drugs were “a major issue in their life”. Compare that with just 22 per cent of parents who thought that drugs played any part in their children’s lives.
Further statistics from the study revealed that 68 per cent of school graduates found that their schools were “infested” with drugs; 51 per cent of college students binge drink monthly; 23 per cent of all college students under a normal evaluation would be considered either alcoholics or drug addicts. Compare that to 8.3 per cent of the US population in general.
To illustrate the point, Stutman revealed that in 2007 the President of Colombia University had to change the graduation process to noon from 9am as he would not have been able to get the students to turn up so early sober.
Where is the outrage?
“Every day, 3,000 college students in the US receive injuries and have to be hospitalised as a direct result of alcohol or drug abuse; every day 300 female college students are raped because of drugs or alcohol and every day five college students die on campus because of drug or alcohol abuse,” said Stutman.
He wondered why there has not been more outrage at these appalling statistics and said that action would be swiftly taken if asbestos had been found in colleges causing similar levels of hospitalisation.
An indicator of whether a child will become addicted to drugs or alcohol as they grow up is the age at which they begin experimenting with illegal substances. Unfortunately, in the US the age at which youngsters are becoming involved is getting lower and lower.
He confirmed, “In 1968 the average age at which youngsters started using drugs was 16 and a half; in 2007 that age was just 12 years and three months. Kids start experimenting with alcohol now at age 11 and a half, on average.”
The first “drug” of choice for young people who begin experimenting is inhalants, with the Pam cooking spray apparently a No. 1 choice of youngsters right now. According to Stutman, youngsters get a high from inhaling the spray as it covers the lungs and restricts breathing, clearly a highly dangerous experiment on the part of the children.
Old drugs: dispelling the myths
Heroin, previously thought of as a drug used by poorer classes in society has, according to Stutman, become a popular drug with the middle classes.
He said, “The demographics of a typical heroin user these days are: white, suburban male, who make up around 80 per cent of users.”
In fact, Stutman said that heroin has become a drug used by “high society” now. This is because users do not need to inject heroin as was the case years ago; nowadays users can ingest the drug in a far more socially acceptable way, by smoking it.
Heroin has become on average 10 times stronger than it was 10 years ago and the streets in the US have become flooded with the drug thanks to the US forces in Afghanistan almost acting as “bodyguards” to the opium growers in that country.
“Ten years ago Afghanistan produced only 3 per cent of the world’s heroin; nowadays it’s 96 per cent,” Stutman said. “Heroin is now the drug of choice for white suburban America.”
LSD, the strongest hallucinogenic known to man, has also made a comeback, according to Stutman. To reinforce the potency of this drug, he then held a water bottle up to the audience and said a bottle of that size could drug 16 million users for between seven to 10 hours. In fact, just one ounce contained a million doses of the drug.
LSD users suffer flashbacks years after they stop taking LSD (studies have shown up to 27 years after ceasing to use) which are a frightening phenomenon whereby users lose sense of reality for between ten to thirty seconds.
To illustrate the consequences of such activity Stutman had the audience close their eyes for 10 seconds (which seemed like an age at the time).
“That is how long a user could lose reality while behind the wheel of a car,” he said.
The terrifying facts: New drugs
Club drugs such as Ecstasy (‘E’ or Hug), GHB (Easy Lay), Rohypnol (Ruffies – i.e. the “date rape” drug) and Ketamine (Special K) have all taken over in the new language of drugs, according to Stutman.
He said that 80 per cent of Ecstasy comes from Holland via Israeli organised crime and in users it apparently gives them the feeling of increase in self esteem and happiness (hence the ‘hug’ moniker).
Used in place of alcohol at raves, Es causes teeth grinding and therefore those at raves can often be seen with a baby pacifier in their mouths. Enterprising individuals in the US have apparently turned this idea into jewellery and girls can sport a pacifier motif on their necklaces and bracelets.
“As I got off the plane arriving in Cayman I noticed about three or four young girls also arriving from the States sporting jewellery with pacifiers on them. Basically, if your daughter has such jewellery she is telling you she is taking Ecstasy,” he said. “It’s the gold plated marijuana leaf of 30 years ago.”
Side effects of using Ecstasy include significant memory depravation and long term night terrors (according to an Oxford University study.)
Ketamine, another highly dangerous but popular drug, apparently causes a near-death experience, whereby the mind feels as if it is floating out of the body.
Medicine chest drugs
According to Stutman, more people in the US use pharmaceutical drugs than all other drugs combined to get high.
Ritalin and Adderal are two of the most widely used drugs for teenagers to get high and are prescribed by doctors for children with ADHD and ADD.
‘The base for these drugs is methylamphetamine or crystal meth as it is also known,” he stated. “It’s a synthetic version of cocaine. Youngsters get their friends’ prescriptions, crush the pills and snort it.”
OxyContin is, according to Stutman “the single most harmful drug in the US today.”
Prescribed to patients as a slow release pain reliever, it should only be prescribed for two to three days at a time as overdoses are commonplace among abusers.
“Youngsters take their parents’ supply, crush it in a Kleenex then swallow it. It hits them like a freight train. One young person said to me: “I love this stuff” because of the warm feeling of wellbeing and safety it brings onto users,” he said.
Stutman then quoted a young person who had been using the drug who was from Burlington, Wisconsin who had been accepted for Princeton University.
“When I asked him what it felt like taking the drug he said ‘It’s like being held in my mother’s arms.’ I thought this quote was so powerful I’m using it as the title for my next book,” Stutman revealed.
Overdosing and dying from taking this drug is easy – the user passes out, lies on their back, gets nauseous and aspirates, as was the case with the death of movie star Heath Ledger, who had traces of the drug (among others) in his blood stream.
Who takes drugs? Not my kid.
According to Stutman, studies have shown that around 78 per cent of drug takers are white. Substance abuse is around 20 per cent higher in private schools than public schools in the US but 15 per cent lower in private schools with a faith-based approach. Kids involved in organised team sports (such as football, hockey etc) are more likely to take drugs; whereas those involved in individual sports (tennis, swimming) are less likely to take drugs.
92 per cent of alcoholics are likely to be employed; 72 per cent of drug users have a job.
Stutman said the myth that only stupid people do drugs and intelligent people didn’t was just that: a myth.
Stutman then told the sad story of a top US CEO who had two sons, both of whom were taking drugs. One managed to recover; the other, a brilliant Med School graduate died from substance abuse as a regular user.
“Most kids who die from overdosing were not suicidal,” he said. “They simply accidentally overdose.”
To help parents predict whether their children may become future drug or alcoholic addicts, Stutman set out three of the main predictors:
The age of first use. As mentioned above, the younger the child experiments the greater the risk of becoming dependent on drugs;
If a child begins smoking at a young age they are ten times more likely to then begin experimenting with drugs later in life;
The single biggest predictor as to whether a child may become a drug addict is directly proportional to the amount of times a parent has dinner with their child. ”The average American parent spends just nine minutes a day with their high school or junior high school child,” Stutman revealed. “If we could all just spend time with our kids, talking openly and honestly with them about drugs, creating an environment whereby a young person can feel they can come to their parents and be heard, then we could drastically reduce the amount of drug addiction in the States.”
Next month The Journal continues to look at the issue, from the perspective of drugs in the workplace.