Pubdate: Thu, 23 Oct 2003
Source: Belleville News-Democrat (IL)
Copyright: 2003 Belleville News-Democrat
Author: Jennifer A Bowen


Children and teens who are armed with knowledge about drugs and the 
consequences of using them are more likely to stay drug-free.

That's what the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program, or DARE, strives 
to achieve: Providing kids with information and knowledge.

"I can't protect them from anything. I can just make them aware of what's 
out there and that they can make choices," said St. Clair County sheriff's 
deputy Tim Owens, who serves as one of the county's two DARE officers. 
"Parents and teachers can't be there all of the time. I'm here to educate 
them so they can make the right decisions."

The DARE program targets fifth- and sixth-grade students and aims to 
prepare them to resist peer pressure when it comes to experimenting with 
alcohol and drugs. The program began in St. Clair County in 1988. Uniformed 
police officers teach one lesson each week for 17 weeks to fifth- and 
sixth-grade students in schools in the county.

Owens talks to about 800 students a year. He has been a DARE officer for 
three years and has been working for the sheriff's department for the past 
16 years. During his years with the sheriff's department, Owens has seen 
teenagers go from smoking marijuana to experimenting with the "club drugs," 
like ecstasy, LSD, GHB, Rohypnol, ketamine and methamphetamine.

The five years before volunteering for the DARE program, Owens worked 
undercover, specializing in auto theft and drugs.

"I volunteered for this because I thought, 'Who better to do it than 
someone who has seen it and been there?'" he said. "I love being here and I 
love teaching the kids."

The DARE program reaches about 25 million American students each year in 
kindergarten through the 12th grade in more than 250,000 classrooms.

Heather Bailey, a 15-year-old Belleville Township High School East student, 
said she remembers a DARE officer coming to her elementary school.

"We didn't always take it seriously," she said. "Most of us already knew 
about it, and kids really don't take adults seriously. They are going to 
try it anyway just to say they did."

Sam Burton, a 16-year-old Mascoutah High School student disagreed.

"I learned a lot," she said. "Kids just really don't think about it, not 
about the long-term consequences, and DARE helped me learn that. I learned 
a lot of bad things about drugs, and I don't want to try them."

Three Collinsville High School seniors also went through the DARE program, 
but said it's supporting their cars that keeps them clean and sober.

"We've all got pretty hot cars," 18-year-old Steven Corbin said. "If you 
spend all your money on drugs, you don't do anything else."

Mike Gruenenfelder, 17, said DARE "makes you more aware." Besides his car 
expenses, Mike said he has another incentive to stay clean.

"I'm suppose to go into the Marines in October (2004); that would mess that 
up," he said. "I've never even tried it."

The teens said they have a number of classmates whose lives revolve around 

"Loss of memory. No money. That's all they do," Steven said.

"I don't want to be like them," said Julian Greer, 17, who has three cars. 
"I've got old cars I work on."

Steven said DARE gave him "a lot of information I didn't have" and also 
earned him a memorable reward in a sixth-grade DARE essay contest. "I got a 
medal for it," he said.

Parents can help children make informed decisions about drug use by 
encouraging frank discussion and explaining to them the kinds of drugs kids 
abuse. Sports, recreational, religious and volunteer activities can act as 
substitutes for drug use.

"Kids are so much more exposed now," Owens said. "It's on TV and in video 
games. We can't keep them from it. I don't believe in sheltering kids, and 
you are doing them no favors by sheltering them from real life. Drugs are a 
fact of life. It's there -- we may not like it, but it's a fact."

Sam's parents have talked to her about drug and alcohol use, and while she 
listens, she has made a personal decision not to try either.

"They do talk to me about it, but I just don't find anything appealing 
about using drugs or alcohol," she said. "And when I hear my friends are 
using them, I get mad. I mean, I can't control what they are doing. They 
are going to do what they want to do, but I can still let them know it 
makes me mad."

Owens recently spoke to a class of 18 sixth-graders at Signal Hill School 
in Belleville. He discussed self-esteem and peer pressure, and explained 
that the teens most likely to use drugs are those who tend to have low 

"Drug dealers look for people who don't feel so good about themselves," he 
said. "If you have good self-esteem, they will see that and leave you alone."
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