Teens in a national study reported that nearly one in five of their classmates drink, use drugs and smoke during the school day, and more than a third said it is fairly easy to do so without getting caught.
More middle and high school students than ever know how to buy alcohol, marijuana or prescription drugs within a day and for the first time, private schools are no longer immune from drugs on campus.
The 17th annual back-to-school survey just released by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse focused this year on use at school -- and it's not good.
For the sixth consecutive year, 60 percent or more of teens in the survey reported that drugs are used, kept or sold at schools and 52 percent said there's a place on or near school grounds where students go during the day to use drugs, drink or smoke cigarettes.
In the survey by the center at Columbia University, 1,003 teens were surveyed. The results are national.
"Kids are feeling much more emboldened to use at school,'' said psychotherapist Elizabeth Jorgensen, who has a private practice treating teens in Ridgefield. "There is not the stigma among teenagers not to use drugs, even for high-achieving students. It used to be that kids understood that doing drugs would jeopardize their future, but that's no longer the case.''
The CASA report also shows, for the first time, a sharp rise in use at private schools.
In 2002, the survey found that 46 percent of students at public high schools said there was drug use at school compared to 24 percent in private high school.
But in 2012, 61 percent of public high school students said drugs were at school compared to 54 percent in private schools.
"It's not the schools' fault that kids are doing drugs, but that's where access is,'' Jorgensen said. "This is a culture problem. They think it's all right. Teenagers are concrete and decriminalizing marijuana makes them think it's legal."
Jorgensen has been in practice for 27 years, and said once it was the troubled teens with psychiatric problems who used drugs but now use is ubiquitous.
Research shows that more young people smoke marijuana than cigarettes these days, she said, and since June, when marijuana was decriminalized for medical use, she's had young clients come in shocked they'd been arrested.
"More teens don't feel any fear about trying drugs,'' she said.
Sandy Atanasoff, coordinator of pupil services for Danbury public schools, hadn't yet read the report, but said she would take it seriously.
"It does sound concerning to me," she said. "I'd like to think the security advocates would keep control of the scene at the high school. Are there things in place yes? Can we step up efforts? Yes."
She agreed that the Connecticut decriminalization for small amounts of marijuana has become problematic.
"Taking the risk is a little easier than it was in the past," she said.
She thinks a lot of the prescription drugs are coming from the home and wants more parents to attend the drug education programs the Housatonic Valley Coalition Against Drug Abuse offers.
If parents express strong opposition of drug or alcohol use, teens are less likely to use them, the study found.
"We have four to five new people every week. These people are struggling with their kids. They don't know what to do," she said.
Schools need to educate staff about substance abuse, she said, and schools, parents, and police need to work together to combat drug and alcohol abuse.
Carolan also thinks schools and parents need to be tougher about setting boundaries and then following through on consequences as soon as teenagers get into substance abuse, instead of calling it a "rite of passage.''
"We're not just talking about something petty. We had a kid overdose yesterday but they revived him. We're talking about saving people's lives,'' she said.
For the first time, the study looked at social media, which found that 75 percent of teens said that seeing pictures on social network site of kids partying encourages other teens to want to party like that.
"It changes the norm,'' Jorgensen said. "The pictures show other teens that it's not such a big deal."
The high-risk kids or novelty-seeking teens who are pictured online, end up having a much stronger influence on their peer group, Jorgensen said.
Before social networking, kids had to be at the party to be part of the scene.