Santa Clara County

Silicon Valley Pressure, Teen Substance Abuse and Free Rides

Los Gatos High School teens don't need to call an Uber or Lyft driver on Friday nights. Students can simply call Safe Rides, a student-run volunteer organization giving free rides to students who are intoxicated, feel unsafe or need a lift.

"It’s just a friend helping a friend out," said Tyler Mashkoori, a Safe Rides volunteer and Los Gatos High School student.

Safe Rides began 13 years ago after Los Gatos High School student Eric Quesada died in a drunk driving accident. Since then, there have been 10 teen alcohol-related accidents in Los Gatos, but no other teen has died, according to the Los Gatos Monte Sereno Police Department.

Heavy drinking and drug use among teens continues to be an issue in cities across Silicon Valley.

"I think growing up in our area where in most cases our parents are very successful, there is of course a lot of pressure to follow in those footsteps," said Dani Kalyle, a Los Gatos High School student. "That's definitely a problem that I think is unique to our area. It's just that combination of pressure and the money to get away from it."

Twenty percent of 11th graders engaged in binge drinking in the past 30 days, and 8 percent have used cocaine, according to the latest Santa Clara County substance abuse survey. Also, more than 1 in 10 high school students have used prescription painkillers without a doctor's order.

Marriage and family therapist Joy Linn of Los Gatos Teen Therapy works with dozens of teen patients across Silicon Valley. Linn says she sees lots of kids who are misusing prescription pills, drinking heavily, and using cocaine as a way to cope.

"When you're under such intense pressure to succeed academically, or to look like you're doing great and that any college is going to want you... then you need time to escape from that pressure," said Linn.

Treatment programs are available to Silicon Valley teens. The Department of Alcohol and Drug Services' (DADS) Children, Family and Community Services Division offers free teen outpatient substance abuse treatment at various locations around Santa Clara County. Provided services are confidential and available to youth ages 12-21.

Safe Rides is another confidential service keeping Los Gatos High School students safe from substance abuse and away from dangerous situations.

"I think [Safe Rides] is special because it's a group of students who really want to help the comunity and want to help other students as well," said Jieon Lee, a Safe Rides volunteer. 

"Stress can cause kids to do a lot of things but we're just here to let them know that there are people here for them and wanting to keep them safe," said Lee.

"So we care about them and care about each other. So I think that helps release the stress in a way."

Safe Rides volunteers share what they bring to each pick up.
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