Patricia Hawke

Charlotte, North Carolina has a reputation as an affluent banking community where southern hospitality still exits, and a gentile lifestyle pervade. Of course, Charlotte Schools are also trying to educate one of the larger city populations in the country. So it depends on who you ask whether or not a recent report on increased drug use among school age children in Charlotte Schools is a shock or not.
The nonprofit group Substance Abuse Prevention Services released the disturbing results of a recent study that targeted children in grades 6-12 of the Charlotte Schools. The findings show that the use of gateway drugs (those that first introduce children to drug use) increased significantly from 2004 to 2006.
Alcohol use rose by 15%, marijuana use increased by 33%, and 27% of students interviewed admitted to smoking cigarettes.  The key seems to be the increase in minority students at Charlotte Schools who are using the gateway drugs. Study director Karen Simon, and educators of Charlotte schools, agree that pressure to conform and fit into a new culture is part of what entices minorities to use these drugs. The greatest rise in drug use was seen in the Latino population of Charlotte Schools.
What can officials and teachers in Charlottes Schools do to turn this problem around? Many think the answer rests partially in parent education. One of the most disturbing results of the survey was the number of middle school students who reported getting alcohol from their parents. About half of middle schools students who use alcohol said that they got it from their parents. Unfortunately, there have already been efforts on the part of Charlotte Schools to educate parents in drug abuse prevention programs. Clearly it has not been enough.
The one bright point of the study was that binge drinking, the practice of having 5 or more drinks at a time, fell by 35 percent. Researchers did not give a reason for that change.
The use of gateway drugs is a key indicator of future problems and other at-risk behaviors for students in Charlotte Schools. Crime, dropping out, and teen pregnancy are all correlated with the use of gateway drugs. The fact that drug use is now appearing in younger ages than it did a couple of decades ago is also a concern of both Charlotte Schools and educators nation-wide.
The study reported that 67% of high school seniors, and 40% of all students surveyed had tried alcohol at least once. Strangely, overall drug use is down in Charlotte Schools when “harder” forms of drugs like crack cocaine and heroin are taken into account. That doesn’t do much to pacify parents and administrators of Charlotte Schools who fear that if swift action isn’t take that trend will soon reverse.