As a high school principal for the past 17 years, I am deeply troubled by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau’s recent decision approving the labeling of a new form of powdered alcohol called Palcohol. This substance can be easily mixed with water or any other beverage, making it a camouflaged cocktail drink that is as easy to make as lemonade or iced tea. On so many levels, I find this decision by the manufacturer, Lipsmark LLC, to market this product a truly disturbing one.
Schools across the nation are engaged in an ongoing struggle to address the rampant alcohol and substance abuse issues that plague our communities. Each year, educational leaders and support staff must be able to identify in our students the physiological symptoms caused by the latest “designer” drugs; each year, it seems some new pharmaceutical grade substance becomes popularized in mainstream teenage culture, and before you know it, you have an epidemic on your hands. Just look at the impact that misuse of opiates has had on young adults over the past few years. I know of far too many school districts that have seen current students or graduates succumb to this or other narcotics. I weary of attending more gut-wrenching funerals for children lost to this plague. Now we have the addition of a powdered alcohol mix, which can be added to any bottled beverage while hundreds of students occupy a cafeteria. There is just no level of adult supervision that could prevent the creation of such a cocktail in school. Adolescents being risk-takers by nature, one can only imagine the out-of-school “drinking game” opportunities this new substance would create as well.
For the last three years, I have served on the Board of Directors of the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (LICADD). This organization provides outreach and counseling services to thousands of individuals and families facing addiction issues on Long Island and in New York City. LICADD also works with dozens of school districts to provide training, counseling and program assistance to overwhelmed support staff employees (counselors, social workers, psychologists) who are valiantly attempting to address alcohol and drug dependence issues in students as young as 12 years old. We are appalled that such a product has the potential for sale in New York State. Since Palcohol has already been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, it is now solely in the hands of individual states to legislate this new product and keep it off the shelves of the convenience stores that no doubt would be a prime location for its marketing and sales campaign.
If there has been one constant that I have observed in my 33 years in public education, it is that our schools have always functioned as a laboratory for observing the impact of all that ails us as a society. Financial struggles, broken families, mental illness, domestic abuse, overuse and abuse of prescription medications, teenage and adult alcohol/drug dependence, the rapidly increasing use and public acceptance of marijuana — we see it all.
To be candid, the weight of these issues dwarfs our ongoing public debate regarding Common Core education and the use of standardized testing for student and professional evaluations. I have shared with parents for years that nothing, not even getting into the best colleges, is as important as the safety and well being of our children. We cannot sit by and allow the emergence of yet another product, FDA-sanctioned or not, to add to the growing list of destructive substances that are afflicting our students and their families.
Jay Matuk, a member of the LICADD Board of Directors, also serves as the principal of Cold Spring Harbor Junior/Senior High School and is an adjunct professor at the C.W. Post Graduate School of Education Department of Educational Leadership.