First Place $1000

Garret Byrne, Senior, LA School for Math, Science, and the Arts


Drug addiction: it takes an iron grip on those whom fall susceptible. It works its way into every facet of a victim’s life until it becomes all that he/she can think about. While drug addiction starts as a pursuit of a better high, it eventually becomes a necessity to simply maintain the body’s stasis. This biological dependency drags people to new lows to ensure their next fix. This I have witnessed firsthand.

My sister and I were exposed to the world of drugs much earlier than most. When I was about nine (my sister eleven), our parents started descending a dark path. It began with a prescription for pain medicine given to my father, which both of my parents abused. My mother was a nurse at the time, and she would write prescriptions under the name of the doctor she worked for to maintain the supply. One thing led to another, and my parents made their way to harder substances. They eventually started doing meth, which brought them to rock bottom. Before long, we barely had a house left, and half of our belongings were stolen and sold for drug money by people they called friends. Our lives were in shambles. It was around this point that my parents were arrested with drug charges.

At the time, I was too young to fully understand what was happening. I just noticed my parents acting differently. How they always locked themselves in their room. How they had strange friends over all the time. How they seemed to argue with more frequency and aggression. Things continued like this for a while. My sister and I had been living with our grandmother for some time, and that amazing woman tried her hardest and gave my sister and me everything, but she knew she could not replace our parents. I would find myself inexplicably, inconsolably upset many nights, sitting in my room and crying to myself about my parents not being home. About my parents not being in their right mind when they were home. About being alone.

Around this time, I started sixth grade. I joined the middle school band that year as a trombonist. Little did I know the solace I would come to find in music. As I went through middle school, I heavily invested myself into the band. Music became my escape. My outlet. It was what I looked forward to every day amidst the chaos of my personal life. From that, I discovered that music is my passion, and I cannot see myself living without it for even a moment.

Now, several years later, my parents have both grown to be much better people than they were before their descent into drugs. My father is pursuing his doctorate in Biological Engineering at LSU, and my mother is saving lives as a drug rehabilitation counselor. They have both become wonderful people and amazing parents. They give their full love and support to all the pursuits of my sister and me, no matter how ambitious or absurd. I am truly blessed to have them in my life.

There are very basic reasons that drug addiction is a problem for society, most of which are plenty visible. So much crime and death are due to the using and selling of drugs. Primary effects from drugs are the toll they take on the users. Regular, sustained drug abuse causes severe damage to the body, and overdosing is always a possibility, since the potency of a substance can vary. There is also no guarantee that a dealer is giving you the substance you purchased, which can introduce various of risks (e.g. overdosing because your dealer laced your heroine with fentanyl). Along with this certain substances have intense withdrawal symptoms that can even result in death.

There are notable secondary problems that arise with drugs as well. Among these are what people do to get ahold of drugs, such as stealing and committing various forms of violent crimes, even murder. Those nearest to the addict are also dragged into the chaos, whether if they are manipulated by the victim or simply distraught by the uncharacteristic, destructive behavior of their loved one. It is very difficult seeing those close to you slowly but surely destroy everything they used to care about. For addicts, though, their brains have been rewired to only care about getting their next fix, which takes precedence over even basic needs like food and sleep.

These would be much easier to address if our criminal justice system was reworked some. So much is geared toward punishment and higher prison sentences for drug-related charges. It is as if we have forgotten that people should be leaving prison more fit to function in society than they arrived. The number of repeat incarcerations for drug charges is outrageous and needs to be addressed. I believe that focusing more on drug rehabilitation for offenders would be much more constructive to reducing drug abuse than simply raising fines and lengthening imprisonment.

The way our society views drug addiction could also use amending. Many do not see drug addiction for what it is: a disease. No one goes into drugs wanting to be an addict; such a notion is absurd. It is a lengthy process of becoming both desensitized to drugs and developing a chemical dependency. Once a person develops a dependency on a substance, it is no longer a game of willpower. The brain is rewired to only care about the flush of dopamine that the next high will bring. Also, withdrawal symptoms can range from constant agonizing pain to even death, depending on the substance. Calling drug addicts weak for becoming and remaining addicted is ridiculous with these taken into consideration. The surgeon general has even officially reclassified drug addiction as a mental disorder to raise awareness to these issues.

As a mental disorder, drug addiction should be addressed like one. Rather than giving larger and larger sentences for drug-related crimes, we should put more resources into ensuring that these people get the help they need to overcome their addiction.

A world without addiction is a fantastic ideal. Just like any other utopia, though, it is most likely unachievable. As long as there are substances for people to become addicted to, there will always be addiction in this world. This idealized world would certainly be less bleak than the current. No more overdoses. No more crime through dealing and trafficking. No more destructive decisions in trying to obtain said substances. No more families torn apart by the struggles of loving someone caught in the snare of addiction. While this goal will never be fully realized, we can always work toward becoming closer to realizing such an ideal.

To those who are caught in the fell clutch of addiction, rehabilitation will be an arduous process. You will be tested and tried many times on the road to recovery; you may even relapse a few times. However, the journey will not be in vain. You will come out a much stronger person than before. Take my parents as an example. They were at rock bottom but have successfully rebuilt their lives. They are now doing more than well for themselves and others, and they are the strongest, hardest-working people I know. The road to recovery will not be easily traversed, but live will be so much more rewarding in the end. What is a life that is completely and utterly defined by a substance rather than the individual?

You may be caught up in your past wrongdoings from when you were out of your proper state of mind. Do not let these mistakes define you. The past cannot be changed, and dwelling on it is wasted energy. Be smart in the present and work for a better future. There is only so much in the world that we can change, but what we do change needs to be for the better. Even when you think you have failed, you need to pick yourself back up and keep going. No life worth living is without failure. My parents have shown me that it is never too late to redeem yourself, and no matter what life throws at you or what mistakes you make, there is always a way to rebuild yourself and become even stronger than you started.

Overcoming drug addiction will almost definitely be the hardest thing one must do. I wish everyone who is currently under the spell of a substance the best of luck in overcoming this struggle, and I hope they get the chance to build the ideal life they deserve to have.

Second Place $300

Anna Cattar, freshman, central high school


Third Place $200

Layla michelle carnes, freshman, central high school