Pubdate: Sun, 02 Jun 2002
Source: Palm Beach Post, The (FL)
Copyright: 2002 The Palm Beach Post
Author: Fran Hathaway


More people are dying of drug overdoses in Palm Beach County, yet the 
numbers are down in Miami-Dade. Why the disparity?

"Palm Beach County has a problem," says Jim McDonough, director of 
Florida's Office of Drug Control. "In places like Miami, where we 
have grassroots coalitions, we see drug use going down."

Public concern about substance abuse waxes and wanes in direct 
correlation to how dire the problem appears. After one generation of 
kids sees disastrous damage from drugs, the numbers go down. Then 
comes a generation that hasn't known the hazards first-hand and the 
numbers shoot up again. So does public anxiety. So figures cited 
recently by Gov. Bush should soothe some of that anxiety.

"We now have a 32 percent reduction in drug use in our state," the 
governor said May 17 while dedicating Governor's Riverwalk Reef. 
Operation Riverwalk was a federal, state and local drug enforcement 
effort that led to the capture of three drug-smuggling ships, which 
were sunk as artificial reefs off Palm Beach County's coast.

Say what? Florida has reduced drug use by one-third and that hasn't 
rated any headlines? I called Jim McDonough.

Mr. McDonough served as chief strategist to national drug czar Gen. 
Barry McCaffrey from 1996 to 1998. When Gov. Bush named him the 
state's first drug czar in 1999, the first thing he wanted to know 
was Florida's rate of drug use.

"But I found no statewide data-keeping," he says. "The national 
samples weren't large enough to tell us how we were doing, and 
in-state surveys were spotty." So he did the best he could with what 
he had. He took figures from the government's National Household 
Survey on Drug Abuse and added other available data. In 1998, he 
figured, Florida's rate of drug use was about 8 percent.

"We were shooting in the dark if a county wanted to do something 
about drugs," he says. "The first thing I asked the governor for was 
the most exhaustive survey in the nation." He wanted to know what 
drugs kids were doing, county by county. What were their attitudes 
toward cocaine, pot, heroin, inhalants, ecstasy, date-rape drugs such 
as GHB or ketomine -- whatever was out there.

"When I was in D.C., it looked to most experts that Florida kids were 
among the worst in the nation. Now, our most recent data shows us 
third best in the United States, after Utah and Virginia." The 
state's 2001 rate of drug use stood at 5.5 percent, a 32 percent 

Mr. McDonough's plan for keeping kids away from dangerous drugs calls 
for blanketing Florida with strong local coalitions, what he calls 
his "oil-spot" approach. "If you have an oil spot in Jacksonville, 
one in Miami and another in Tampa, eventually you cover the state." 
He has about 43 coalitions now. He wants 67.

"We've tried to identify leaders in each area we visit. If necessary, 
we train them in how to run an organization. Then we reinforce their 
efforts." If a bank president or police chief isn't involved, for 
example, Mr. McDonough will host a meeting. If a group needs money, 
he'll help to get it. If the group needs publicity, he'll bring in 
First Lady Columba Bush. In drug prevention, he believes it's the 
local effort that counts, including what adults say to kids.

"If parents talk to their kids," he says, "it has a major impact. If 
not parents, coaches, religious leaders -- adults of some sort. No 
matter what the kids say, they listen."

As for the drug overdose figures Mr. McDonough soon will release, why 
should they be lower in Miami-Dade? Miami's coalition is one of the 
best, he says. There has to be a connection.

I don't know if Palm Beach County's numbers reflect an increasing 
population or an increasing problem. I do know that, over the years, 
many people have worked hard to spur prevention and treatment here. 
Which makes me wonder why we don't have a more active coalition. 
Perhaps local folks need to dial Mr. McDonough at 850-488-9557. He 
works for us. We should use him.
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