CNN’s Lou Dobbs hosted a live discussion Wednesday night in Jack Morton Auditorium focusing on the crisis of drug and alcohol abuse within America’s youth.
About 200 students, faculty members and invited guests attended the nationally broadcast program entitled “The War Within.” Dobbs, who called illegal drugs in America “weapons of mass destruction,” spoke with experts and other guests, including University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, about the causes of substance abuse and its prevention and treatment.
Dobbs cited many statistics, including the fact that though the United States comprises only 4 percent of the world’s population, it consumes two-thirds of the world’s drugs.
“I think that this is the largest health crisis we face in America today,” said Joseph Califano, chairman of the National Center of Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. “We have seen incredible damage, loss of productivity, tragedy in terms of tearing families part, people being incarcerated, and people losing everything they have because of their struggles with addiction.”
Program guests said binge drinking and underage alcohol consumption are serious problems. Nearly one-fourth of college students would clinically qualify for alcohol or drug abuse, Califano said.
“(We) tend to treat drinking as a rite of passage for college students,” he said. “The trouble is there is the increasing of the intensity of drinking.”
Other experts cited peer pressure on college campuses and at high schools as a main impetus for alcoholism, illegal drug use and prescription abuse.
Trachtenberg received several rounds of applause from the audience upon coming onstage as a guest. He addressed the issue of substance abuse prevention at universities.
“Society puts a lot of stress on young people, and many use drugs as an escape,” Trachtenberg said, adding that schools should try to feature more alternative events that do not offer alcohol, so that students are less prone to activities such as binge drinking.
After Trachtenberg finished speaking, Dobbs thanked him for his time and exclaimed, “Amen, brother” to the outgoing 68-year-old university president.
Though administrators might suggest harsh punishments for drug and alcohol violations, GW has tried to educate students through campus health services, Trachtenberg said. The University offers a medical amnesty policy for students who over-drink and require medical attention for first-time offenses.
Experts mentioned that the repercussions of substance abuse include increased incidents of assaults and rapes on campus, as well as health risks and death.
Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said young adults’ brains, which undergo great physical changes during adolescence, can be damaged by drugs. The earlier children abuse substances, the longer lasting the detrimental effects will be.
“Drug abuse and addiction are fully preventable. How do you do that? That’s the challenge. You educate,” Volkow said. “Use everything you have to educate. It’s not just about telling kids don’t take drugs, it’s about telling them all of the other things that they can do with their lives.”
Dobbs spoke with three young men who are members of Alcoholics Anonymous, who have overcome their addictions. All three men discussed their battles with an array of illicit substances that often began at a young age, one as early as 9 years old.
Dobbs featured a video clip from a Minnesota high school where students who battle substance abuse receive counseling and 12-step education programs. Students at Sobriety High live by the mantra “progress, not perfection.”
Experts on the panel pointed to several methods for prevention, such as parent involvement and early education.
U.S. Rep. Jim Ramstad (R-Minn.), a recovering alcoholic, advocated for changes in the American healthcare and insurance system for rehabilitation treatment. He said no one should be turned away from treatment facilities.
Part of the problem, Dobbs said, is that insurance companies and medical practitioners don’t view addiction as a disease, though it is technically categorized as such by the American Medical Association.
John Decker, a senior at the University of Maryland who attended the show, said Ramstad made strong points for treatment.
“We spend too much money on incarceration instead of treatment,” Decker said. He added that when the police get involved in an individual’s substance abuse, the person then has a legal problem on top of his health problem.
Freshman Katie Reyzis said Dobbs’ discussion didn’t offer new solutions to the long-standing substance abuse problem. She said, “The prevention idea was over-exaggerated.”