In West Baltimore, young boys hold drugs for older dealers trying to insulate themselves from arrest.
In the Pigtown section of Southwest Baltimore, glue-sniffing is a chronic juvenile drug problem.
In Locust Point, police regularly break up beer parties among children in their early teens.
Against that backdrop, seventh-graders at Francis Scott Key Middle School in South Baltimore spent a class period Tuesday crafting their own powerful anti-drug messages.
"I'm really against drugs, I don't like what's happening in society," 12-year-old Chris Brown said. "Everybody's doing drugs, they're dying, they're killing. It doesn't make any sense."
Chris wrote a rap song slamming drug abuse, and his was one of several songs, anti-drug skits, posters and anthems put together in a contest sponsored by the accounting firm of Coopers & Lybrand.
About 20 company employees visit the school every month under a partnership program entering its fourth year, pushing school attendance and other issues.
The volunteers came up with yesterday's anti-drug contest as a way to let students speak out on the subject, said Kara DeFelice, a Coopers & Lybrand volunteer.
"We're trying to have them creatively get word out that kids shouldn't do drugs, say 'No' to drugs," she said. "There's a lot of pressure on them in school."
Students involved in the contest were asked to come up with an original poster, video skit or other anti-drug message in a half-hour's time, with no advance preparation.
Their efforts were judged by a pair of city police officers from the Southeast District who are well acquainted with the problem of juvenile drug crime.
Glue-sniffing, drug-dealing and alcohol abuse are widespread among young people, said Officers Ronald Teufer Jr. and Timothy Rabbitt.
Volunteer programs such as the one sponsored by Coopers & Lybrand may be more effective in combating those problems than another series of passive lectures, the officers said.
"These are professional people, educated people who are taking their time," Officer Rabbitt said. "That means a lot."
The students, meanwhile, poured their energy into a series of sometimes-graphic skits taking aim at drug abuse.
The winner was a piece put together by students from teacher Evelyn Walls' class, a short, dramatic tale of a boy who is drawn into the world of drugs and shot down in a dispute with a dealer.
"I was impressed," said Ken Long, a leader of the Coopers & Lybrand volunteer project, who praised all of the presentations. "They understood that there's a drug problem out there. I hope they listen."