Pubdate: Tue, 21 May 2002
Source: Wall Street Journal (US)
Copyright: 2002 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
Author: Tara Parker-Pope
Note: Send comments to (Drug Education)
Bookmark: (ONDCP Media Campaign)


If $1 billion in television advertising can't keep kids off drugs, then 
what can?

That's the question parents, educators and government officials are asking 
after a survey revealed last week that the nation's most prominent antidrug 
campaign has been largely ineffective. Despite five years of huge spending 
on flashy antidrug ads with numerous celebrities like the Dixie Chicks and 
Mary J. Blige, teenage drug use remains alarmingly high. Today, 54% of kids 
have tried an illicit drug before they leave high school, sharply up from a 
low of 41% in 1992 and about the same as the pot-smoking heyday of 1975.

The statistics show just how far off course the nation's antidrug efforts 
have gone. The grim reality: Most of what parents and educators now say and 
think about drug prevention is wrong. But it doesn't have to be that way. A 
growing body of scientific research is beginning to identify several basic 
principles proven to keep kids off drugs.

Most surprising, the best antidrug efforts spend remarkably little time 
talking about drugs. Instead, they focus on helping kids cope with the 
demands and stress of daily life. In the LifeSkills Training course, a 
drug-prevention program used in about 7,500 classrooms nationwide, only 
about a fourth of the sessions focus directly on drug use. One study found 
that LifeSkills, a rigorously tested curriculum developed by Cornell 
University, reduced teen use of cigarettes, alcohol and marijuana by 66%.

Here's are some steps that prevention researchers say can keep kids from 
using drugs.

Teach real-world coping skills: Drug prevention can start by building a 
teen's confidence for a job interview or teaching a child how to rebuff a 
schoolmate who wants to copy homework. One proven antidrug program even 
uses deep breathing exercises to help kids cope with the anxiety they feel 
before a track meet or exam.

The problem is that many parents and teachers don't believe such relatively 
simple measures can really translate into saying no to drugs. But Gilbert 
J. Botvin, a public-health professor at Cornell University's Weill Medical 
College and the creator of LifeSkills, says the program works by increasing 
a child's overall confidence. Doing so decreases "the likelihood they will 
be negatively influenced by the media or their friends to smoke, drink or 
use drugs."

One caveat: Although the most successful school programs don't harp 
extensively on the dangers of drug use, that doesn't means parents should 
avoid the subject at home. On the contrary, parents remain one of the 
strongest moral influences on kids, and they need to send a clear antidrug 
message. Studies show that parental ambivalence increases a child's risk 
for drug use.

Focus on one drug at a time: While the broad antidrug campaign hasn't 
worked, there's strong evidence that media attention to harmful effects of 
specific drugs has made a difference. For instance, a 1995 ad campaign 
about abuse of inhalants, such as paint thinners and glues, precipitated a 
drastic drop in use. In 1986, cocaine use fell after extensive news reports 
on the death of Len Bias, a college-basketball star who died after using 
cocaine .

Those examples illustrate the so-called life cycle of a drug. Word of a 
drug's benefits spreads rapidly, but there is always a lag time before kids 
learn about the dangers. Once the risks become apparent, occasional users 
drop the drug and potential new users don't try it.

Parents and educators can make a difference if they pay attention to the 
life cycle of a newly popular drug and work to quickly spread the word 
about harmful effects.

Don't lecture: One of the criticisms of the failed ad campaign is that the 
commercials carried the imprimatur of the government's Office of National 
Drug Control Policy. "I'm worried putting that tagline causes kids to 
dismiss the message they've just consumed because they're not sure they 
like who is giving it to them," says Lloyd Johnston, program director for 
the University of Michigan's Monitoring the Future study, which tracks drug 
use trends.

The use of lecturing is often cited as the single biggest flaw in perhaps 
the best-known and most popular antidrug program, D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse 
Resistance Education), which brings police officers into schools to talk 
about drugs. Despite its wide use in schools, D.A.R.E has failed to deliver 
any measurable impact on teen drug use, experts say. But the program is 
being revamped to encourage more student interaction. The new D.A.R.E., 
which is being tested on 35,000 students in 200 schools, gets kids more 
involved in the lesson, such as asking them to discuss how they'd react at 
a party where kids were drinking.

"It has to be highly interactive," says Zili Sloboda, investigator on the 
D.A.R.E. study and senior research associate at the University of Akron 
Institute for Health and Social Policy. "Children have to be able to try it 
on in their own lives."

Repeat the message: The most successful antidrug classes are those that are 
presented over the course of a child's school career. This simple fact may 
be one reason why most of the nation's antidrug efforts have failed. For 
instance, D.A.R.E. is taught in 80% of the country's school districts. But 
most of the time, it's used only in elementary school. Only 25% of the 
districts teach it in middle school and about 10% offer high-school programs.

To find out if your school is teaching a proven antidrug program, check out 
the U.S. Department of Education Web site, 
It has a list of "promising and exemplary" antidrug programs in schools 
around the country.
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