A destructive visitor comes calling Howard County: Arrival of 'Ropies' and teen drug use survey deliver cause for alarm

September 29, 1995

THE NEWS from Howard's substance abuse office is not good. The county has just experienced its first reported case involving Rohypnol, a volatile sedative that causes amnesia and is 10 times more powerful than Valium. Nicknamed "Ropies," this substance originated in Texas and Florida and appears to be spreading north. In the Howard instance, the drug arrived by way of Texas, via United Parcel Service.

Although the county has only one reported case, in the world of drug experimentation trends spread rapidly. And, as with all substance abuse, Rohypnol is dangerous. Often taken in combination with alcohol, it is highly addictive and can trigger heart failure, among other problems.

Its arrival in the county should underscore the suburbs' vulnerability to drug abuse, too often miscast as a city plague. According to a Maryland Department of Education survey, drug use among Howard students has increased rapidly in recent years, with marijuana, LSD and PCP being the substances of choice at the moment. The good news is that cigarette and alcohol use among local youth appears to be on the decline. But the statistics are still alarming, especially when one considers that even among the most dangerous of substances, such as crack, reported cases in the county occur as early as sixth grade.

The sociological causes are many and theories abound. The substance abuse coordinator in Baltimore County, Michael Gimbel, suggests that while young people of the 1960s and 1970s turned to drugs to enhance their experiences, today's young people may be looking for an escape. From what? From an upbringing, Mr. Gimbel believes, that taught them to value material things only to discover that achieving them is all but impossible in the highly competitive global economy of the 1990s.

In some ways, today's students are emulating the children of the 1960s, through their music, clothing and, unfortunately, the use of drugs. Their parents, who lived through that era, have a responsibility to warn them that not only were lives lost in that earlier generation, but that drugs today are more potent and dangerous than ever.

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