The dark side of suburbia

Hinsdale, like much of suburbia, is preoccupied with its facade of conformity and perfection. This cookie-cutter, car-dependent, upper-crust mindset has plagued our community with an ignorance towards the dark side of suburban life–adolescent drug abuse.

To save our friendships and families’ reputation, there are stories that we, as students at Hinsdale Central, are not allowed to share. This denial of our reality is unhealthy as many students–including people I know–are victims of the opioid epidemic.

In 2015, alumnus Matt Stefani died of a heroin overdose. Amid their debilitating grief, the Stefani family was torn between filial affection and social stigma. Losing your child is devastation defined, but to lose your child to drugs–an avoidable peril–is entirely another.

Matt’s story begins in middle school; during his last month at HMS, he was suspended for selling marijuana. At Central, however, something fell short. High school was when Matt started taking Xanax and harder drugs; it was supposed to be a correctional period for him–one of awakening and recovery, of friendships and frivolity, of sports and self-discovery–and yet it became the four years that decisively ended his life. Unfortunately, Matt’s story is one of many.

Like Matt, many students at Central come from affluent families; in fact, a large proportion of Hinsdale parents are doctors, exacerbating drug abuse as teenagers have greater access to prescription medication. A study from Columbia University corroborates that addiction among suburban youth is 3 times higher than their inner city counterparts. Problematically, 46.6% of teens have tried illicit drugs by their senior year.

But accessibility does not imply intent. Instead, Hinsdale Central’s failing health education is to blame. Its emphasis on abstaining from drugs has had the reverse effect on teenagers. As a fifteen-year-old, I am fully aware that abstinence–whether it be towards drugs, alcohol, or sex–does not work. If anything, it incentivizes the very behavior that is being discouraged.

Hinsdale Central should adopt a harm reduction strategy to emphasize treatment–rather than abstinence–when it comes to drug abuse. Harm reduction strategies have been successfully applied to sex education to reduce both teen pregnancies and STIs; they have also lowered alcohol abuse in educational programs where treatment is emphasized.

Harm reduction accepts that a continuing level of drug abuse is inevitable and that the best approach to helping abusers is to provide them with the education and resources needed to recover. Expanding treatment is imperative in a community where teenagers are increasingly susceptible to addiction, yet are not taught how to deal with it.

But the stigma surrounding addiction means that many Hinsdale suburbanites believe addiction “can’t happen here”, refusing to acknowledge their childrens’ struggle while demonizing them for taking drugs.

Without the support of parents and administrators, we may never hope to adopt a harm reduction strategy, losing our children to addiction–a difficult experience with a simple solution.

At Central, we are in the middle of a war we refuse to fight. I urge our community to break free of its false utopia and confront the dark side of suburbia.