Tuscaloosa, AL – The U-S Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee met Tuesday, June 15th to discuss how to prevent and treat drug use among America's youth. Senator Jeff Sessions is a member of that committee. During a recent press briefing, he spoke with Alabama Public Radio's Butler Cain about how lawmakers are addressing the issue.
Other business kept Senator Jeff Sessions away from the committee meeting, but he says reports of rising drug use among younger students trouble him. He says there was a noticeable decline in substance abuse among high school students during the 1970s and 1980s, and he says those numbers have been better recently, as well. But he says there's a disturbing new trend that reflects drug use among America's middle school population.
"Sixth and seventh graders, the younger kids, are showing some significant increases in drug use. That needs to be a matter of high importance to us."
But so far, Sessions says he hasn't heard a good answer for why drug abuse is on the rise among younger students. He can only offer speculation that it may be related to a social condition -- the rising number of children who are not supervised at home during the day.
"We know most drug use occurs after school hours. So if younger people in the 7th, 8th and 9th grades are unsupervised at home, they're wandering around, maybe hanging around with kids with bad habits, they could end up experimenting with drugs in a way they wouldn't otherwise."
Sessions says he supports intervention on two different levels, and both focus on reform instead of incarceration. At the high school level, he says students should be required to undergo drug tests as part of their normal routine.
"Drug testing, without any criminal punishment arising from it, but as a diagnostic tool to determine whether or not there's a serious drug problem in high school."
He says that kind of program would also encourage parental involvement, and Sessions says that offers the potential for tremendous breakthroughs in fighting drug use among youth. As for adults, Sessions favors the expansion of drug courts. He says drug offenders would be placed in an intensive program that would include weekly drug tests, visits to the presiding judge and strict monitoring by probation officials.
"You can use less incarceration and more intensive supervision, so they can be at home with their family, they can be working and paying taxes and taking care of their family. At the same time, we're closely monitoring them to make sure they're not slipping back into drug addiction."
Sessions says he's expressed some of his concerns to John Walters, the director of National Drug Control Policy. That office recently released results from a national survey that suggest more teenagers first try marijuana in June and July than in any other months of the year.
For Alabama Public Radio, I'm Butler Cain.