The Pledge Against Substance Abuse


On Tuesday morning during the week of Halloween, the students at Frank Sinatra School of the Arts (FSSA) arrived to see school faculty holding large bags. The faculty smiled with a simple “good morning!” while handing out a small red ribbon. Some kids looked at it with a curious expression while others quickly stuck it against their clothes or bags or wherever they could stick it. The little red ribbon had texts such as Keep Calm and Stay Drug Free in a big gold font.

While people were preparing for Halloween and the Halloween show (a tradition that has been at Frank Sinatra for a long time), it was also a time to celebrate Red Ribbon Week, an awareness campaign dedicated to teach kids and parents about drug preventions and the dangers of drug abuse. This awareness campaign was established in 1985 in honor of Enrique “KiKi” Camarena, a DEA agent who was kidnapped, tortured and murdered Mexico. After the news of his death spread, people began to pass out red ribbons and bandanas honoring him for his work to help stop drug-related crimes. The red ribbon becomes the known symbol for prevention in order to reduce the demand of illegal drugs. Although this awareness is talked about in other schools and celebrated every year, it hasn’t been talked about much at FSSA

“After recent incidents, we realized we have to [celebrate Red Ribbon Week], it’s not something we can ignore, we have to address the issue. We can’t wait for another incident and just address with the people who are involved. If we do the prevention messages, maybe it will keep incidents like that from happening in the future,” explains Ms. Kurnitz, the SAPIS counselor at FSSA, who is specialized and trained to help any students in need of help from drug and substance abuse.

Drug and substance abuse is a continuing battle and unfortunately, teenagers especially between the ages of 12-18, have suffered from it. According to, 15% of high school seniors used a prescription drug non-medically in the past year, most commonly used drug is Adderal (used to treat ADHD) as well as Ritalin (another ADHD medication). Another used drug taken is Vicodin, an opioid pain reliever.

Most common drug abuse comes from marijuana and hashish, which according to studies, 36.4% 12th grade seniors have been reported to use it. From, more teenagers are smoking marijuana than cigarettes. Hard drugs such as cocaine and heroine only been reported with 2.5-2.6% usage by seniors. The good news is, is that all the numbers have been continuously decreasing and over half the percentage has dropped since the 1990’s, but it is still prevalent amongst teenagers.

“It’s a time of experimentation. It’s a time where kids think nothing can happen to them. Unfortunately, things do happen and we are aware and we have to get it out [the awareness] to them,” said Ms. Kurnitz.

“There’s not one reason for why people take drugs. Some people take it because they want to have fun. They might have a difficult time socializing and maybe it may be a social lubricant. There may be issues at home or at school that they can’t deal with. And [drugs] can help make them disappear for a bit and escape when they have problems,” she added.

As Ms. Kurnitz explained, taking drugs helps create a high. After a certain amount of any drug or substance, the brain and body functions begin to change. The high is created with the help of the brain’s extreme change in dopamine levels. Dopamine is a chemical that is released to the brain to help the person feel good and happy. Drug usage can alter the brain to release this “feel good” chemical. But after awhile, the chemicals of the drug are flushed out which rapidly decreases those dopamine levels, which is why when people come down from that high, they feel even more depressed, all while having the yearning feeling to take those drugs again: to get the same high. If one were to try again though, it would require for one to do more of that substance to feel better again, which can easily take a toll on the body and eventually end in death.

What is worse, is that not only is it hard to recover from substance abuse, but it’s trying to admit that someone is a drug addict is just as onerous. But nonetheless, there are ways to recovery.

“It’s really hard to do it [recovery] alone, so asking someone for help is very difficult but it is the first step. Then after, there are different kinds of treatment,” said Ms. Kurnitz. “There’s the 12 step program, there’s the out-patient drug treatment, there’s in-patient drug treatment. Some people lock themselves in their rooms to detox. Different methods work for different people and the sad thing about addiction is that one treatment is not enough. You go through rehab and becomes a struggle everyday. You have to change your whole life and you never recover completely. People do it, but it’s not easy and the rest of your life is about staying strong.”

For the rest of the week, students walked around proudly showing off their red ribbons. Besides this, they were able to sign their names in pledges promising to stay away from drugs and hopefully, help others who may be struggling with addiction. On the Thursday of that week, a couple classes were invited to listen to the story of guest speaker Tatiana Green, who is a recovering heroin addict.

— by Ezgi Cakirca ’15