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Drinking and drugging -- Second of two parts

Marijuana is said to be the elicit drug of choice for teen users. - RYAN SCHIERLING/Photo Illustration
Marijuana is said to be the elicit drug of choice for teen users.
— image credit: RYAN SCHIERLING/Photo Illustration

Substance abuse on Bainbridge is shaped by island demographics.

Wealthy kids have money in hand. Often, both parents work.

“BHS is almost like the perfect scenario,” said BHS sophomore “Jared” (not his real name). “There are, like, all these big houses with parents who are gone all the time, and the kids have large allowances.”

But the push for suburban perfection also takes a toll, Jared says, and overloaded parents pass the stress down to kids. Depression, substance abuse and eating disorders may result.

Jared classifies his own once-a-week use of alcohol and pot as “moderate,” like his friends.

“These are kids who are busy during the week, and like to reward themselves,” he said.

One student says kids buy on campus but use off. Perennial favorites are alcohol and marijuana. Bainbridge Police Detective Scott Anderson agrees with the assessment.

“If it was a scavenger hunt and you gave them that goal (of buying marijuana), every school-age child could accomplish it whether they use or not,” Anderson said.

Other drugs of choice change.

Five years ago, cocaine was prevalent. Now, anecdotal accounts suggest that amphetamine-based ecstasy, or “E,” is a presence here. “Shrooms” – or hallucinogenic psilocybin mushrooms – are native to the area.

While drugs can change hands at the high school – a deal often arranged the night before – most use takes place off-campus.

Some youths are turned on by older friends, young grownups in the community; others cite depression or just a social experience.

Jared was introduced to alcohol in ninth grade; he tried speed once and ecstasy two times, but quickly retrenched. Not all his friends stopped using “E,” however, and one in particular seems caught.

“She’s done it more than a dozen times,” said Jared, who says he is bothered by her use.

For Jared, motivation for using will divide kids whose once-a-week use he deems recreational from those who use heavily.

“It’s the reasons they do it,” he said. “Usually they’re less happy with their lives. They do it to escape. So whether it’s stress or depression, kids try it, too, and they just don’t stop.”

‘I was bored’

A BHS student focus group also identified boredom as a reason kids here use. Former island resident and BHS graduate Jessie Robinson says it was a major factor contributing to her own use.

Robinson, whom Anderson calls “very credible, very smart,” graduated from Bainbridge High School in 1997. Young enough to have kids as friends, but old enough to have some distance on the “scene,” Robinson has gained clarity about past mistakes.

She experimented with drinking and pot in eighth grade but her use “took off” during her sophomore year.

“It wasn’t so much ‘oh, man, I have to have it,’ it was something to do,” she said. “There were classes in my schedule I didn’t like. They were just more enjoyable if you were stoned.

“We’d go off campus and hang out. They’d be able to hook me up by the end of the day. The fact that it was so readily available made it difficult to stop.”

Robinson finally had to move off the island to stop.

“I was never diagnosed as having a substance abuse problem,” she said. “It was fun. I wasn’t aware at the time how my choices would affect my later life.”

Robinson quit substances when she became pregnant at 20; she now lives in Suquamish and raises her 3-year-old son.

When she considers how her island friends used, the division doesn’t fall in line with conventional wisdom; her friends often came from intact families with money, and were athletic and got good grades.

Conversely, some friends who abstained came from dysfunctional families and learned to become self-reliant.

Circumstances aside, Robinson has come to believe, people need to own up to their deeds.

“I’m not judging people because I was one of them,” she said. “But I do think that people should be held accountable for their choices.”

The law

For Bainbridge Island Police Detective Scott Anderson, holding kids accountable can be a frustrating task in the face of the sense of invincibility – the sense that there is no price to pay.

“In general, the kids do not respect or fear the consequences,” Anderson said. “Up to this point, the message from the community to the police and school is that we really don’t want to do what we need to do to solve this problem.”

Parents protective of their children may block police from talking to a youth suspected in a drug or alcohol incident without a parent present – “significantly” impeding investigations because, Anderson says, kids are loath to admit to wrongdoing in front of parents.

“Bainbridge Island is one of those communities with a vocal minority that has demanded that there be protections provided to our students above and beyond what the law requires,” he said, “and this puts the school district in a difficult position.”

Anderson says he is more intent on arresting whoever supplies a youth with an illegal substance than arresting the user.

But while it is a gross misdemeanor to provide minors with alcohol, overfull Kitsap jails mean that the penalty of up to a year of jail time translates to a fine of $750 – and, with criminal history, some community service.

Deputy prosecutor for Kitsap County Bonnie Martin has charged only two Bainbridge adults with the offense since last April.

Anderson says that beyond the obvious health risks involved, substance abuse can also raise other safety issues. When he investigates a date rape, chances are drugs or alcohol are involved.

“I’ve only investigated one (rape) case out of dozens in the last five years where the victim wasn’t impaired by substances,” Anderson said.

Sometimes impairment is deliberate. Robinson can count, she says, “at least a dozen” young women and one young man here who believe they were “slipped a mickey.”

The drugs used may be Rohypnol, or “Roofies,” a colorless, odorless sedative that renders the victim inert and causes amnesia, or the horse tranquilizer Ketamine, or “Special K.”

What will keep kids from using, Robinson believes, is something they decide is more important than drinking and drugging.

And, they need both mentorship and accountability.

“When I got busted for things, my mother didn’t get me off the hook,” Robinson said. “The consequences my parents did make sense. If I used drugs, I had to have my purse searched.

“On the island, when kids are busted, there may be a big intervention with everyone talking, but no consequences.”

She added: “Parents are good at addressing underlying emotional issues, but they are so intent on helping kids heal that they are not allowing them to learn.”

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