Pubdate: Tue, 02 Oct 2001
Source: Portland Press Herald (ME)
Copyright: 2001 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.


Maine will double its efforts to keep children off drugs as a result of a 
three-year, $9 million federal grant.

The money will be used to teach children to make healthy choices, teach 
their parents how to communicate and use all members of a community to make 
cigarettes, alcohol and illegal drugs less available to young people.

The grants are based on the belief that the longer children resist drug, 
alcohol or tobacco use, the less likely they are to become addicted. And 
money spent on prevention avoids the more expensive future costs of drug 
treatment and law enforcement.

The money will be distributed to school and community-based programs around 
the state, focused on preventing substance abuse among children between 12 
and 17 years old. It will be used to expand already existing programs and 
extend service to areas of the state that have no programs, said Kim 
Johnson, director of the state Office of Substance Abuse.

"There is a huge need and very few resources," Johnson said. "This is a 
real opportunity."

Teen drug use is as big a problem in Maine as it is in any part of the 
country, said Ruth Sanchez-Way, director of the Center for Substance Abuse 
Prevention, the federal agency that awarded the grant.

"I was very surprised," she said. "You think of Maine as a rural state that 
doesn't have these problems, but we know that isn't true."

According to statistics assembled by the Center for Substance Abuse 
Prevention in 1999, 12.5 percent of children between the ages of 12 and 17 
reported using an illicit drug, including un-prescribed pharmaceuticals, in 
the past 30 days. Other states reported between 7 percent and 14 percent 
use, which puts Maine among the upper end in that category.

In the same age group, 11.5 percent report engaging in binge drinking - 
having five or more drinks at one time - and 8 percent reported using 
marijuana in the past month. That average ranks Maine in the middle of the 
states, Sanchez-Way said.

Johnson said the problem may be even more serious than those numbers 
suggest, because the age group is so broad. If the survey had been 
conducted for only 16- and 17-year-olds, the percentage would be much 
higher, she said.

Maine was chosen in the competitive grant process because it has an 
established network of state and non-profit agencies in place to distribute 
the money. Nine states were selected this year and 35 states plus Puerto 
Rico and Washington, D.C., have received funding over the last four years.

Starting next year, the state will begin funding programs that target the 
early use of cigarettes, marijuana, alcohol in general and binge drinking. 
The federal funds will be used to pay for grants to 30 projects throughout 
the state, paying about $80,000 a year for three years to each program.

There is no specific design for the programs, but they must use proven 
techniques. "There are categories of things that we know work," Johnson said.

Successful initiatives include mentoring programs, parenting education and 
strategies to reduce drug availability.

A national model is the Across Ages program, which matches children with 
retired people who are willing to serve as mentors. Parents receive 
training in talking with their children, and teachers are also trained to 
reinforce what the children are learning outside of school.

The model is based on research which shows that a teen-ager who has a 
strong connection with an adult is less likely to get involved with drugs 
or alcohol abuse at an early age. The adult can be a parent, a teacher, or 
an adult friend.

Other programs work to change attitudes about drug use, such as teaching 
people throughout a community that drinking or drug use is not a normal 
part of adolescent life, Johnson said.

New programs may be targeted to reach people in the Native American 
community, or gay and lesbian students, which have higher rates of 
substance abuse than the general population, Johnson said.

Prevention programs like these are the only way to reduce the need for drug 
abuse services, Sanchez-Way said. Because of demographic trends, the 
12-to-17 age group will be much larger than it is now in seven years, and 
if drug-use rates stay level, the population of drug users would also explode.

"We can treat forever, but we're never going to make a dent in the problem 
if we don't make progress on prevention," she said.
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