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Sorry, teens, for boring you - Juneau did its best

Posted: Tuesday, October 13, 2009

In Sunday's Juneau Empire, I read statements from a Juneau-Douglas High School senior who said "kids take drugs because they are bored," and, "urine testing is not the solution ... but more activities for teens and more resources for law enforcement were more appropriate ways to decrease the drug problem."

More activities for teens? In recent years, we (not "you, the student," but "we, the Juneau taxpayers," indebted ourselves for hundreds of millions of dollars to build an ice rink, swimming pool, a new high school, a covered play area and a skate board park, just to name a few - mainly because "there's nothing to do around here."

We heavily subsidize a ski area. The JDHS Web site shows teens have the following opportunities to do something other than drugs: Academic Decathlon, Alpine Club, Art Club, Auto Club, Close-Up, debate/forensics, drama team, Homebuilders, Honor Band, Honor Choir, Interact, J-Bird, Metals Club, Model UN, National Honor Society, NOSB, peer mediation, pep band, play productions, spring musical, student government, Video Club, world language, baseball, basketball, cheerleading, cross country, dance team, football, hockey, soccer, softball, swimming, diving, tennis, track and field, volleyball, wrestling, exchange students, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Gay Straight Alliance, Mountain Bike Group, and Teens Against Tobacco Use.

If none of these interest you, there are also things that adults did as teens, such as Boy or Girl Scouts, fishing, hunting, hiking, camping and trapping. Teens can even get a part-time job to pay for these things.

Although we've spent millions of dollars subsidizing youth activities with taxes, support of fund raising and volunteering, we've somehow come up short and failed you. All the teachers, coaches, volunteers and others dedicated to Juneau's youth are deeply saddened for your boredom.

My job requires routine, random urine testing for drugs and alcohol. Those that fail are fired - including those using any of those masking agents you report are so easy to use. Employers aren't concerned if an employee says that boredom made them take drugs. Nor are they worried how "unreliable" the test is. What they want are sober people who follow their rules about drug use so they do not endanger others or themselves. Think of this new testing program as free job training.

I am financially exhausted trying to keep boredom from Juneau's youth. Funding virtually unlimited opportunities for teens to stop being bored has not worked. I now have to lock my house and vehicle because a bored youth needs to take for free what I worked for, and buy or sell another Oxycontin pill. The inmates are running the asylum.

We should drug test all students - not just athletes - for their health and well-being, just as we screen for other illnesses and learning disabilities. We don't let students attend school without required immunizations. We shouldn't let them attend if they are using illegal drugs. Their future employers won't tolerate it, and I'd rather they learn this now rather than later, when we'll have to pay for them to be both bored and unemployed.

Mandatory sentencing of drug dealers also is needed. As we've seen in Juneau, Superior Court judges will not put Juneau drug dealers in prison where they belong, but send multiple offenders right back on the street. Until we address this issue, more money for enforcement is simply increasing court and police costs but doing nothing to fix the problem. We should appreciate the life-risking efforts our police offer when arresting drug dealers, and not allow judges to kick law enforcement in the teeth by sending repeat offenders back on the street.

If we need to change the laws, let's do it. Lenient judges and an accepted mantra that the schools, not individuals, are responsible for curing illegal drug use are taking Juneau down the same road seen in the Anchorage and Mat-Su areas. Our little town is rapidly becoming a big town in ways I would hope no one wants. Voting to implement drug testing for athletes is a good first step. It's time to establish tough standards and consequences for illegal drugs, rather than looking for more unappreciated "activities" for our bored youth.

• Mark Stopha is a commercial fisherman and North Slope environmental technician. He lives in Juneau.



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