The following story was produced for Youth Takeover week at KQED. This article is adapted from an on-air interview.
Legalize It But Don’t Normalize It: Three Teens Speak Out Against High School Drug Culture
Three high school seniors at Richmond High School, all named Kevin, say that they’ve seen an increasing normalization of drug use among young people in their community. And not just marijuana. Prescription and illicit drugs like Xanax and mushrooms have become increasingly accessible and widely used.
“I have a lot of friends who've been to jail, and when they come out they can't really get a job very easily, so selling drugs is the easiest option they have,” says Kevin Kreger. “And that usually ends up in school, too, because, you know, a lot of sales happen at school.”
“It's scary to think that it's just there," he added. "It's become so normalized in our community. ... When people talk about weed or drugs, it's kind of just another thing.”
Kevin Muñoz remembers witnessing his older brother's involvement in selling.
“I know he's changed for the better now, but growing up seeing that, it was just something that put my parents through a lot of pain and I didn't want to do the same thing to my parents.”
Kevin Montes has encountered drugs at home. “[My cousin] would bring it up out of nowhere, like, ‘Oh do you want to go smoke or do some drugs?’ and I'd say no. He'd just become so normalized to it.”
Back in the 1980s and '90s, the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program or D.A.R.E. (many remember being told to “Just Say No!”) was part of a comprehensive government anti-drug effort.
The 1980s “War on Drugs” campaign had at least a minimal presence, if not a major one, on most American school campuses.
These days, Montes says, schools don’t really push the same anti-drug agenda.
“I've seen a lot of advertisements about cigarettes and saying no to cigarettes," he says. "But a lot of times on social media, a lot of highlights are saying how good marijuana is, and that influences a lot of people.”
“It was taboo before," Kevin Muñoz says. "You wouldn't see weed or marijuana advertised as much as you do now, but like now, you see a lot. I don't care if it's legalized, it's still wrong to me."
After he graduates this year, Muñoz plans to go to Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo to study aerospace engineering.
“At the end of the day I hurt my parents so much that I'll just never be able to be OK with that," he says. "And I'm really going to take that with me.”
Kevin Muñoz, Kevin Montes and Kevin Kreger are seniors at Richmond High School