IN SEARCH OF THE 'ANTI-DRUG'

Author: dataminig by freeminder
Date: Sep 30, 2003
Views: 2743

More money is being pumped into drug education than ever.  Yet the
image of drugs continues to be one of glamour rather than danger.  As
teen drug use holds steady, this much is clear: No one seems to know
just what to teach kids about drugs - or how, or when.

NEW YORK - When George Bush delivered his State of the Union address
last January, he was quick to proclaim his administration's faith in
drug education.  "We are fighting illegal drugs," the president told a
roomful of applauding legislators, "by cutting off supplies and
reducing demand through antidrug education programs."

In fact, the number of experts who still embrace the "cutting off
supplies" approach to the war on drugs is an ever-increasing
minority.  But at the same time interest in drug education as a means
of battling illegal drug use remains strong.  For the past decade,
experts and politicians across the political spectrum have been
stepping up the argument that education, rather than tough drug laws
and border control, will be the most effective means of turning teen
drug use in America on its head.

A whole lot, then, is riding on the success of existing drug education
programs, and the Bush administration knows it.  Among the provisions
of this year's National Drug Control Strategy: $170 million earmarked
for the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign and $694 million for
the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Program.

And yet, during a summer rife with the results of studies on drugs,
anti-drug campaigns, and drug prevention, it became increasingly clear
that no one seems to know just what to teach, or how, or when.  A few
scenarios show that some of the methods adults use to push kids away
from drugs may actually be drawing them nearer.

* In June, drug czar John Walters proposed drug testing in schools
across the country just weeks after a multiyear study funded by the
National Institute on Drug Abuse found that students in schools that
have drug testing are likelier to use drugs than those in schools that
don't.

* In late July, on the same day that Cheech & Chong - long associated
with marijuana use - announced work on their first film in 20 years (
"They have a whole new generation of fans out there," New Line
Cinema's Kent Alterman beamed ), the Harvard School of Public Health
released its College Alcohol Study.  Education programs aimed at
reducing drinking at college may encourage it, the study found.

* In August, shortly after participating in an antidrug film, a
15-year-old boy in England was found in his grandfather's garden after
overdosing on a fistful of Ecstasy pills.  The tablets had been
stamped with kangaroos, and three 16- and 17-year-old boys were
arrested on suspicion of supplying them.  How could a student so
involved in drug prevention, the world asked, so completely escape its
message?

Experts continue to wonder why it remains so hard to identify the
elements of a truly effective drug program.  Considerable time, money,
and effort have been thrown at the question, and yet the hearts and
minds of many young people seem to remain largely resistant to the
cautionary messages of adults.  Drug education programs may have
statistics, case studies, and "just say no" techniques on their side,
but drugs have supposed glamour, adventure, and the promise of peer
acceptance on theirs.  Messages coming from teachers and adult seem
only rarely able to compete.

Reefer Madness
The history of drug education is short and poorly documented.  Many
drug experts are as uncomfortable discussing it as they are talking
about illegal drug use, in part because it is riddled with failed
programs, and in part because of the implicit admission that it is
still too early to declare any of the latest ones effective.

One of the first attempts at drug education came in the form of a 1936
pseudodocumentary, "Reefer Madness," which hyped the harmful effects
of marijuana, "the killer weed." A cult classic since its rescue from
the Library of Congress in the '70s, the film was the first in a wave
of scare tactics that would play a pervasive role in drug-education
programs for the next 50 years.

In the late '80s, when an egg and a frying pan were used as a metaphor
for the brain on drugs, the campaign was shunned into oblivion.  Out
of the backlash was born the popular slogan, "A mind is a terrible
thing to confuse with an egg." Kids weren't buying it, and antidrug
campaigners admitted that fear and exaggeration don't work.

"Kids today are rightly suspicious," says Meredith Maran, author of
the recently released "Dirty: A Search for Answers Inside America's
Teenage Drug Epidemic," in which she shadows three adolescent drug
users to try to find out why they use and who, if anyone, is helping
them stop.

"Teenage disbelief and suspicion of drug prevention programs is rooted
in scare tactics," she says.  "When I was 16 and started reading
stories about drugs I was taking, and compared my reality to that, I
said 'that's that.' To this day I don't trust anything from those
sources."

Even today, some drug education experts are reluctant to talk about
what has become the most widely used prevention program - Drug Abuse
Resistance Education ( D.A.R.E.  ) - since the Los Angeles Police
Department founded it in 1983.

Preliminary studies showed a rapid reduction in drug use among the
fifth- and sixth-graders who went through the program, and nearly two
decades of federal funding followed.  But in the late '90s, a new wave
of studies deemed the program not only ineffective, but a possible
cause of rising drug use among teens.  More kids who had been through
D.A.R.E.  said they were trying drugs than those who hadn't.

Despite these findings, D.A.R.E.  remains the program of choice in 80
percent of US public school systems - and the curriculum has yet to be
replaced or improved upon.

Herbert Kleber, director of D.A.R.E.'s Scientific Advisory Board,
admits the program continues to be used in part because of its
monopoly on drug education.  It had parents, teachers, and legislators
enraptured for 15 years, he says, and there was little room, not to
mention money, to develop other programs.  "If D.A.R.E.  disappeared
tomorrow, money wasn't going anywhere else," Dr.  Kleber says.  "So
the way to deal with it was not to kill it, but to fix it."

With a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the board
appointed Zili Sloboda at the National Institute for Drug Awareness to
develop an improved curriculum.

D.A.R.E.  would stay, says Kate Kraft, the foundation's senior program
officer, for logistical reasons.  "D.A.R.E.  has quite an effective
distribution network," she says.  "The issue was, if you could create
a prevention curriculum that followed state-of-the-art evidence about
what works, and distribute that through a ready-made distribution
center - D.A.R.E.  - could it be effective?" They are betting that it
can.

Revamping the Message
Dr.  Sloboda has been working on the new curriculum for four years,
and the conclusion she has reached - that a 10- or 17-lesson antidrug
program in fifth or sixth grade isn't enough - is one that
ninth-grader Isabel Maremont grasped long ago, baffled that it took a
task force of experts four years and thousands of dollars to
understand this.

"I don't really remember anything from D.A.R.E.," Isabel says with a
shrug.  "We only had it in sixth grade, and I threw away my binder a
long time ago.  But now is the time we start wondering whether we'll
ever try anything."

Which is why Sloboda is testing her D.A.R.E.  revamp, "Take Charge of
Your Life," in seventh and ninth grades, when students are reputedly
at the highest risk of experimenting with drugs.  The study is being
implemented over a 10-lesson period in 88 school districts throughout
Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, New Orleans, St.  Louis, and Newark,
NJ.

As for the curriculum itself, Sloboda rattles off a six-pronged
formula for success that includes understanding the risks of drugs,
developing assertiveness and refusal skills, and avoiding potentially
violent situations.  Last on the list: "Make positive quality-of-life
decisions."

What students don't learn is how the drugs work, what effects they
have on the brain, and why they are harmful.  "You've seen the
pictures of the lungs and all that stuff," Sloboda says.  "It goes
right over their heads."

That isn't the kind of credit Isabel thinks she and her peers
deserve.  "I think they're almost scared to tell us the truth," she
says.  Isabel learned nothing about the club drug Ecstasy, for example
- which has doubled in use among eighth graders in the past 10 years -
when she went through D.A.R.E.  two years ago.

She does know, however, that cocaine and heroin are harmful "because
you can overdose on them." Nicotine "is just bad." And alcohol? "If
you have a glass of wine at dinner or a beer or something, if you're
an adult," she says, "it doesn't matter."

But Sloboda is uncomfortable with teachers focusing in the classroom
on the specific characteristics of each drug.  It is much more
effective to teach kids the skills to say "no." "The kids," she says,
"need resistance skills to be able to say 'no' when they want to."

The Wrong Messengers?
But what happens when they don't want to say no? What happens when the
reason isn't peer pressure or what they have or haven't learned, but
curiosity?

In May, less than 10 percent of high school students surveyed about
drugs and drinking named peer pressure a "major problem," according to
"The State of Our Nation's Youth," while 27 percent reported that it
is a "minor problem," and 65 percent "not a problem."

Just when many children are beginning to wonder what drugs feel like,
they are learning little more than how to avoid them.  And that kids
hear this message from teachers or police officers in programs such as
D.A.R.E.  has sometimes been the source of public ridicule.  While
there is no hard evidence that using police officers to teach kids
about drugs doesn't work ( no studies have yet been done to determine
this ), most experts suggest that law enforcement may not be the most
effective mouthpiece.

"We're looking at that now," Sloboda says.  "Things have changed. 
Since Sept.  11, there's a renewed respect for firemen and police
officers and the military."

Others argue that students learn best from people who can impart some
sort of wisdom based on experience.  And yet it is a rare program that
allows students to hear from current, or former, drug users.

Ron Clark, the 2001 Disney Teacher of the Year and author of the
best-seller, "The Essential 55," says the message itself is muffled if
kids cannot relate to the messenger.  "A lot of people in these
programs just aren't the right individuals," he says.  "They don't
bring a real passion to the subject, and the kids get bored to tears. 
Whoever is doing the awareness program has to be someone the kids like
and trust."

And then there is the issue of time.  How is D.A.R.E., over the period
of 10 or 17 brief lessons, supposed to influence kids who receive
informal education about drugs - from friends, family, and a
drug-saturated culture - their whole lives? Is it any different from
teaching about sex? Or guns? Or algebra? These are hard lessons, and
they require more than a quick-fix formula or punchy sound bites.

"The best programs that are science-or evidence-based can't just be in
schools," says Roberta Leis, program director at Join Together, a
drug-awareness resource center in Boston.  "But a lot of the parents
just grabbed onto D.A.R.E.  and those pins and buttons and thought
that was all they needed to do."

Kids who are curious about drugs will figure out a way to learn about
them, insists Ms.  Maran, whose own children reacted very differently
to drugs when they were teens.  "Kids are so smart," she says. 
"They're much more Internet-savvy and can go to sources that give them
real information.  One psychiatrist I interviewed was saying that half
of her job was just scrambling to keep up."

Jordan, whose aunt has struggled with an addiction to crack cocaine
for as long as he can remember, vows to stay away from drugs.  But,
when asked how likely that is, he grows quiet, leaning over a
chessboard in his former middle school library and fingering a bishop,
his Far Side T-shirt hanging loosely on a sinewy frame.  "I don't
know," he murmurs.  "Maybe."

Jordan is spending many of the last days of summer hanging out at his
old middle school in East Harlem, excited but nervous about the coming
years at a prestigious, wealthy, mostly white school in upstate New
York.

"I think about what it would be like to take drugs," he admits slowly,
throwing a furtive glance over his shoulder.  "But I can't just think
about myself.  I have a brother and a sister who think the world of
me, and I'm trying to be a role model for them."

Still, Jordan cannot help but feel conflicted when he's taught to fear
or loathe drug addicts.  "I know it's a bad thing, doing drugs," he
says, his gaze lingering on the bishop.

"But I also think it's bad to [label] someone as a crack head or a
drug addict.  They're hurting themselves."

Jordan may not have textbook knowledge about what drugs do to the
brain, but he knows far more about drug use and what it does to the
people you love than any of his teachers do.

Formal, school-based messages about the dangers of illegal drugs have
long rung hollow to him.  He certainly knows that drugs are dangerous,
but he also sees a difference between casual experimentation - such as
his relatives drinking wine - and addictive behavior, and he knows the
lessons about drugs aren't necessarily as black and white as the
rhetoric used in class.

By now, Jordan no longer takes such messages too seriously.  These are
decisions he's had to learn to make for himself.  For the moment, at
least, he hopes he's strong enough to continue making them.

Talking About Drugs: the Toughest Conversation
By the time I neared the end of my dozens of interviews for this
series, I had it down to a science: two minutes.  No more, and rarely
less.  I had two minutes to convince each person that this was a story
they could be a part of without giving up too many secrets.

Maybe it's because, with so many people having either tried an illicit
drug or knowing someone who has, the subject feels too personal.  Or
maybe it's a more general concern about having one's name attached to
something so dark, so forbidden.

But one pattern quickly emerged: No one wants to talk about drugs -
and that's especially true for adults.

I don't mean to imply that his voice didn't drop an octave when Jordan
Temple spoke of his aunt, who has used crack cocaine for as long as he
can remember.  Or that he didn't choke up when he spoke of his
siblings and the need, if only as a role model, to stay clean.

And I don't mean to imply that she didn't blush when I got around to
asking Isabel Maremont some of the tougher questions: Has she ever
tried drugs? Does she think she ever will? A tiny voice in the back of
my mind wondered: Is it any of your business? Her eyes, so honest, so
disarming, almost said, "Yes, it is."

What struck me more than the shyness of the students was the language
of the experts.  Sure, they'd like to discuss drug education.  Sure,
they had plenty to say about what they have and haven't learned.

But the moment I asked why kids might be attracted to drugs, the
language transformed into policy speak, into a prose so formal it was
unclear whether I was getting even the tiniest glimpse of their
beliefs.

"We're putting in place additional quality control measures to ensure
proper diffusion," one expert told me.  Another surmised: "You can't
go into a very brief intervention with kids and say their
developmental course has been changed forever."

It was as if I'd set off an alarm.  I couldn't help but wonder if
these kids - who constantly spoke of the importance of "keepin' it
real" - trust adults a little bit less when the language strays from
sincerity to discomfort and obfuscation.


PROGRAMS THAT HOLD PROMISE

CASASTART
www.casacolumbia.org
Developed
by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at
Columbia University, CASASTART ( Striving Together to Achieve
Rewarding Tomorrows ) is a community-based, school-centered program
designed to build resistence to drugs and crime in "high-risk
preadolescents" between the ages of 8 and 13.  The program brings
together some of the key stakeholders ( schools, law enforcement,
social services, and health agencies ) under one umbrella and works
daily with children.

FAST
www.wcer.wisc.edu/FAST
Designed
to build protective factors for students ages 4 to 12, and to
empower parents to be directly involved in their own children's
understanding of the dangers of drugs, Families and Schools Together (
FAST ) was developed in Madison, Wis., in 1988.  Its key distinction:
Team members do not lecture at FAST, but plan participatory activities
that involve turn taking, experiential learning, and parental
support.  FAST is now implemented regularly in 45 states and five
countries - Canada, Germany, Australia, Austria, and Russia.

Too Good For Drugs
www.mendezfoundation.org/educationcenter/tgfd
Too
Good For Drugs is a school-based prevention program designed to
reduce the risks and enhance the protective factors related to
alcohol, tobacco, and other drug use among students grades K-8.  Each
grade level follows a separate curriculum, and each curriculum is
designed with the specific goal of lifelong retention in mind.  Too
Good For Drugs also focuses on five broader skills: goal setting,
decision making, bonding with peers, identifying and managing
emotions, and communicating effectively.

Peers Making Peace
www.pmuinc.com/
Developed
with children grades six through 12 in mind, Peers Making
Peace offers unique "peer-mediation training" in groups of 15 to 24
students.  Using students as active mediators, each participating
school develops a program that deals with conflicts among students to
reduce suspensions and expulsions, as well as to improve school
attendance and academic performance.  The idea behind Peers Making
Peace is rooted firmly in the importance of helping children take
responsibility for their actions.

Fighting Back
www.fighting-back.org/
Although
still little more than a pilot program, Fighting Back has
demonstrated remarkable success in reducing substance abuse among
youth aged 12-17 in the Santa Barbara, Calif., county school system. 
The community-wide effort to build a safer, healthier, and drug-free
community focuses on reducing the demand for alcohol and other drugs. 
It addresses issues contributing to substance abuse, rather than
simply teaching denial skills.  The community-wide strategies evolved
into a long-term local intervention designed to reduce the problems
associated with substance abuse through heightened public awareness,
increased community outreach, and better institutional infrastructures
( school, hospitals, etc.  ).  Its long-term strategy aims at changing
the way individuals and organizations think about substance abuse and
at providing better responses to the various problems that it can
cause. 

no comments yet

Please log in to add a comment.
add Comments!
comments
For loged in users a comment form appears here.