Eleven congressional pages were fired after admitting to smoking marijuana at an April 27 party in Washington, DC, then smuggling the drugs back to the House dorm on Capitol Hill.

Authorities confronted the 11 pages on Monday, April 29, after receiving a tip from another member of the program. The accused admitted guilt and were promptly dropped from the program.

While top legislators expressed shame and embarrassment at the incident, several other of our future leaders seem comfortable with the idea. "It's [marijuana] no big deal. I mean, who hasn't--Democrat or Republican--who hasn't had the occasional recreational joint? If they knew the truth, they would have to fire most of us," a female page remarked to me. She added that most of her peers were sympathetic to the offenders. A morning email circulated around the senate referred derisively to the woman who reported the drug activity, labeling her a "snitch."

Such remarks belie a growing naiveté about the dangers of drug use. According to a Partnership for a Drug-Free America survey, there has been a 20% decrease over the past ten years in the number of teens who regard marijuana as "harmful." The finding mirrors a dramatic increase in illicit drug use amongst teens since 1992.

That year, President Clinton took office amidst claims that he experimented with marijuana in college. "I didn't inhale" said the president, who later added, "I wish I had inhaled," during an appearance on MTV. The pop-culture president giggled. Young people applauded.

Critics, however, charged that the president's wink-wink response to prior drug indiscretions legitimized marijuana use. And indeed, it is true. On or about 1992, pot became a much more agreeable companion to America's young. According to the 1998 National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse survey, teen marijuana use surged more than 300% since Clinton took office. That reversed a 12-year trend of steadily declining drug use during the Reagan-Bush years.

The implications are frightening. Especially considering that the marijuana being circulated today is significantly more potent than that which made the rounds a generation ago. There is also abundant evidence now that marijuana use can cause serious developmental disorders in the brain function of teenagers.

Drug use can also mean hell to pay in family trauma. According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy's 1998 National Drug Control Strategy, up to 50% of all incidents of domestic violence are drug-related. The emotional trauma of addiction also frays the family unit.

Sadly, budget cuts enacted by President Clinton have effectively placed a straightjacket on the mass media awareness campaigns and national prevention initiatives that had proved so successful during the Reagan/Bush administrations.

Plainly, there is a need for this new administration to bolster federal, state, and local prevention efforts. Even more importantly though, parents must realize that their kids are now using drugs at younger ages. As Mary Pipher explained in her book "Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls," the psychologist explains how some of these unprecedented changes are affecting adolescent girls: "For the last half-century parents worried about their 16-year-old daughters driving, but now in a time of drive-by shootings and car jackings, they can be panicked. Parents have always worried about their daughters sexual behavior, but now, in a time of date-rape, herpes, and AIDS, they can be sex-phobic. . . Something new is happening. Adolescence has always been hard, but it's harder now because of cultural changes. The protected place in space and time that we once called childhood has grown shorter."

As the very concept of youth cracks apart, we must rise up as families and halt the progression of drug use that is delivering our children into destruction. And while we might not be able to save every child, a good start would be openly discussing drug refusal strategies and teaching our children to place value on their own bodies. Most importantly though, we must be aware that when adolescents act out their alienation and confusion with destructive behavior, such as drug abuse, they are really just begging for their parents and society to discipline them, to demonstrate with certainty that they care, to validate their bourgeoning identities.

Should parents or society fail to notice, children will escalate their destructive behavior, and casually partake in their own destruction. One long, deep breath at a time.

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