Are Bored Teens Cooking Up a Spice Epidemic?
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Are Bored Teens Cooking Up a Spice Epidemic?


This just in: bored teens will take anything to get high.

This time, it’s a drug called spice. According to the New York Times, increasingly potent and dangerous varieties of the synthetic marijuana have fueled a rise in emergency room visits and resulted in an undetermined number of deaths. One hospital in Baton Rouge, Louisiana reportedly saw over 110 spice-related cases in February. “That’s a huge spike,” said Mark Ryan, the director of the Louisiana Poison Center.

What’s Going on in Baton Rouge?

With so much drug use going on, I couldn’t help but wonder: what else is going on in Baton Rouge? A quick Google search confirmed what I suspected—not much. According to one resident, “If you don’t like sports, don’t particularly enjoy the outdoors, are not very religious, hate driving or a combination of these then you’ll probably run into difficulty just trying to function.”

Well, lots of teens can’t drive—and where I’m from, for the average teen, the great outdoors were made for getting drunk and high.

I grew up in Bedford, Ohio, a suburb on the east side of Cleveland, where—for entertainment—we pretty much subsisted on Friday night football. Instead of Louisiana crawfish boils, we had strawberry festivals and rib cook-offs. As far as parks, there were two popular options: the Metroparks—an extensive system of nature preserves that sits like an “emerald necklace,” as it is called, around Greater Cleveland—and the Glens, which were a bit more secluded.

And so it came to pass that the Glens were where my girlfriends and I mostly got drunk, smoked pot and made out with the older boys who were kind enough to be our chauffeurs. Drunk and high, we’d swing perilously from vines and swim naked in the creek. You know, kid stuff. Right?

I mean, sort of. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 35 percent of 15-year-olds have already tried their first drink. Further, the National Institute of Drug Abuse says 44 percent of high school seniors have smoked pot—and that’s only counting the kids that are willing to admit it for a survey (I know I wouldn’t have).

Nothing Else to Do

I imagine that teens use drugs for a lot of the same reasons that adults do. They’re stressed out, and they have feelings and they don’t know what to do with them. Sure, what stressed me out as a teenager was slightly different than what troubles me in my 30s. Whereas these days I worry about how to pay bills, as a teen I had academic pressures as well as peer pressure, including the pressure to have sex. It’s sometimes hard to remember, but yeah, peer pressure is real. And certainly, “everyone’s doing it” is a lot harder to resist when there’s literally nothing else to do.

Stories about this Spice stuff remind me of the time I got high with Stacy Rathy, a slightly older, way cooler girl I hung around with in high school. Stacy wore all black with red lipstick and dyed Manic Panic colored streaks in her hair. She drove a shit kicker in which we were allowed to smoke and she’d blast the grungiest of rock as loud as it would go. This was during my “alternative” phase (as you may have guessed) and I wanted Stacy to respect me—even though she kind of scared me—and so the one time I smoked pot with her, I sat quietly in the backseat, deciding it would be nominally less cool to announce that I thought I WAS MAYBE PROBABLY DYING than to just not say anything and quietly die.

Yep, I was pretty sure my heart was going to explode and/or I had maybe just peed myself and there was a chance that even if I stayed quiet, THEY COULD ALL HEAR MY THOUGHTS.

In other words, who the fuck knows what was in that pot?

Instead of dying, I got to live my less-than promising life. At 15 years old, life was earning good enough grades at a shitty public school, working stupid hours for very little money and mostly feeling bored and anxious.

An Antidote to Spice

That’s why I believe kids, even more than adults, need creative outlets. Bonus points if these activities help them express themselves and process their feelings. Extra bonus points if it gives them hope for their future and a sturdy sense of self. If not, expect that they’re doing whippets in the Dairy Queen cooler. I know that I was.

If Internet chat boards are any indication, my coming of age sounds a little like what you might find in Baton Rouge, a city described by one local publication as having “a tragic and alarming poverty problem.” Sure, rich kids do drugs, too, but what’s more boring than poverty? And what solution does our nation have for escaping poverty other than drugs? It doesn’t surprise me that bored teens have come to a consensus that “Baton Rouge sucks dick” and that the only thing to do there is to “Take 3 hits of acid and do donuts on the levee.” Yeehaw!

Look, the point of this piece isn’t to slam Baton Rouge. It’s to say that if we want teens to quit experimenting with drugs, then—1) that probably won’t happen, but 2) at the very least, we should provide them with something else to do. For some kids, somewhere, that could be an antidote to spice.

Photo courtesy of the US Drug Enforcement Agency ( [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons (resized and cropped)

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About Author

Melissa Petro is a freelance writer and writing instructor living in New York City. She has written for NY Magazine, The Guardian, Salon, The Daily Beast, The Huffington Post, Jezebel, xoJane, The Fix and elsewhere. She is the founder of Becoming Writers, a community organization that provides free and low cost memoir-writing workshops to new writers of all backgrounds and experiences.