On Thursday the Greenwich High School Outreach Club met with advisor Kathy Steiner, longtime wellness teacher, to debrief on a successful Red Ribbon Week, a drug abuse prevention campaign.
Red Ribbon Week is a national campaign that started in 1985 in response to the murder of a DEA Agent. Communities across the country started wearing red ribbons to raise awareness of the destruction caused by drugs in America.
At GHS, the long running Outreach Club has always appealed to teens not to drink alcohol or do drugs.
On Thursday, club members said the pandemic had a palpable impact on students.
“This is my first normal year of high school,” said Bettina Gunnerson.
Club members said it had been a shock to see their peers’ full faces after prolonged mask wearing, and that unmasking created some stress.
They said there were students who’d been reluctant to take off their masks because they got used to wearing them and a degree of anonymity they provided.
And, sadly, they said there were nasty comments about people who had “mask faces” – people who looked better behind a mask.
The club members described the period of adjustment and their surprise to see other students in person after all the months of remote learning, when a lot of students either had their cameras trained on their foreheads, or kept their cameras turned off.
“You could have a friendship with someone and never have seen their face,” said club co-president Zarah Hillman. “It was such a reveal.”
Outreach Club members also said that while few students smoke tobacco these days, vaping of liquid Nicotine and marijuana was odorless and also corresponded with addiction.
They said students bring their vapes to school and the bathroom in the GHS student center was a destination for vaping.
Ms Steiner cautioned against making generalizations about how prevalent vaping was, and noted that the reason Greenwich Together conducts anonymous surveys on a regular basis was to get a more accurate estimation of the extent of drinking an drug use among youth in the community.
“My seniors think that vaping has increased, but it may be because we are more aware of it,” Ms Steiner said.
“The majority of youth are not using drugs or alcohol,” said Corina Restrepo who works with the club when she’s not busy with Greenwich Together or Kids in Crisis.
Red Ribbon Week Swag
Club co-presidents Zarah and Kate said the theme for the 2022 Red Ribbon Campaign was: Celebrate Life. Live Drug Free. Students stopped by the red ribbon table during lunch block to pick up stickers that said ‘Say no to Drugs,” tattoos saying ‘Pledge to Be Drug Free,’ and wristbands that said, ‘Live Life Drug Free.’
There was also an opportunity for students to stop at the table for some red nail polish to paint a single fingernail red in a show of support.
Throughout the week, school principal Ralph Mayo’s morning announcements featured some startling statistics, including:
• Almost 21 million Americans have at least 1 addiction, yet only 10% receive treatment.
• Teens who start drinking before age 15 are six times more likely to develop the disease of alcoholism later in life than individuals who wait until 21.
• Drug overdose deaths have more than tripled over the last 30 years.
• More than 90% of people who have an addiction started to drink alcohol or use drugs before they were 18.
• Nationally, 10% of ‘A’ students smoke marijuana compared to 48% of ‘D’ and ‘F’ students. Regular marijuana use can cause a drop in academic performance, and a drop in IQ of up to 8 points.
• Deaths involving opioids increased dramatically during the pandemic, driven by a sharp increase in fatalities involving fentanyl, a highly potent synthetic opioid that is cheap to manufacture, easy to smuggle across our borders, and easy to access through online platforms.
More information on Red Ribbon Week is available online.
This article originally appeared in Greenwich Free Press