“If we don’t know about it, we can’t address it, and the only way we’ll actually know about it is if we can test. It’s another arrow we can give to our parents,” said Levine.
In Quincy, Superintendent Richard DeCristofaro said the city’s two high schools use drug-sniffing dogs on occasion, along with other measures to limit drug use.
“Drugs are much more prevalent. It’s the biggest obstacle that communities and schools face,” he said.
In addition to having police officers and security guards in the hallways, video cameras have been placed throughout the schools and are monitored by Quincy Police.
“We want to deter as many students as possible. It’s always a possibility that our students will be in an area where drugs are being used,” DeCristofaro said.
At some schools, such as Swampscott High School, parents are required to sign a year-round chemical health policy contract that can have wide-ranging consequences if violated by students, such as being banned from extracurricular activities for a year and having to complete a drug/alcohol counseling program.
At Newton North High School, there are no canine drug searches or security guards. Alison Malkin, a social worker and the school’s prevention and intervention counselor, said she believes a communitywide approach is best to deal with students who take drugs. She said counseling starts with parents, who need to deliver a firm message to their children.
“Be direct, set boundaries, and be consistent,” Malkin said. “For parents, it’s an opportunity to tell their kids what their hopes are for them and how they can support them.”
Malkin said she thinks bringing a heavy police presence into the school will not scare students into abstaining. She offers several group therapy sessions for students, including for youths who are struggling with alcohol and drugs.
“Being able to look at a long-term solution that’s going to work better through your life is our goal,” she said.
Teens interviewed for this story said a combination of factors are considered before they decide whether or not to use alcohol or drugs. Many, such as Needham’s Ellie Benjamin, said kids are more likely to mirror their friends’ behavior.
“The norm is set by who your friends are,” said Benjamin, a senior at Needham High School who said she does not use drugs. “You’ll feel it’s more normal to do because you know others are doing it.”
Some, including Haley McDevitt of Nahant, said educational courses about substance abuse had no influence on her decision to avoid drugs.
“I think of my personal health, and I want my lungs healthy and my brain to work,” she said.
Joshua Robinson of Beverly said he thinks a heavier police presence at schools will keep most students in line during the day, but will not deter them from finding and using drugs after school. Robinson, 16, attends the Northshore Recovery High School in Beverly. From age 12 to 15, Robinson said he combined alcohol, marijuana, hallucinogens, and Adderall — a prescription amphetamine — regularly.
He now speaks to middle school students about his addiction and recovery, and said those like himself — who are just a few years older than students in the audience — may have the most impact in preventing kids from taking drugs.
“Listening to kids in recovery helps immensely, and I think the age difference is very important,” Robinson said. “Repetition helps young people. They need to be informed about how bad drugs really are.”