Pubdate: Fri, 14 Feb 2003
Source: Portland Press Herald (ME)
Copyright: 2003 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.
Author: Selena Ricks, Portland Press Herald Writer


The Maine Legislative Youth Advisory Council, the first group of its
kind in the nation, will recommend today that the state take several steps 
to improve substance abuse education.

The proposals, part of the group's first annual report to the Legislature, 
include revamping the state's annual survey of teen drug use and replacing 
DARE, the widely used Drug Abuse Resistance Education program.

The report will also urge lawmakers to routinely seek the advice of young 
people when addressing issues related to teens, drugs and alcohol. The 
suggestions come as state officials are stepping up efforts to combat 
underage drinking and reduce fatalities involving young drivers.

Last month, Gov. John Baldacci announced a $400,000 television ad campaign 
and a $9 million, federally funded community campaign to prevent underage 
drinking. And Secretary of State Dan Gwadosky has proposed tightening laws 
for young drivers by creating a six-month intermediate license for new 
drivers under 18, and by banning those teens from driving between midnight 
and 5 a.m. Gwadosky wants to reduce fatalities involving young drivers, 
which totaled 55 last year.

The council, which includes 18 high school and college students ages 15-21 
from across the state, first met six months ago after being established by 
the Legislature in 2001. Its primary duties are to address issues referred 
by the Legislature, propose legislation based on their own ideas, and serve 
as representatives for other youths in the state. Members are appointed by 
the speaker of the House and Senate president.

"We're really excited to show them all of the work we've done," said Molly 
Feeney, 17, co-chairwoman of the council.

When the council first met last August, members quickly decided to study 
substance-abuse prevention programs in the state, such as DARE, and 
determine if there is any room for improvement.

"I think we chose that just because it's the one issue that is ongoing," 
said Feeney. "People are always trying to tackle it and come up with one 
easy solution, but there isn't one. . . . It's one of those issues where 
there's always room for improvement."

So far the youth council has held six monthly meetings in addition to two 
public hearings. It also heard testimony from a number of substance-abuse 
prevention and treatment professionals before drafting its report.

The report makes nine recommendations, a number of which pertain to the 
state Office of Substance Abuse. They include:

Reviewing the Office of Substance Abuse's Maine Youth Drug and Alcohol Use 
Survey, which is periodically administered to middle school and high school 

The council is concerned that the survey, which has about 130 questions, is 
too long and that teens do not take it seriously. The survey also leaves 
out teens who are home-schooled or have dropped out of school.

"As students and youth, we felt we could give the best input to let them 
know this survey is not as effective as it should be," said Feeney.

Searching for more effective alternatives to the DARE program offered by 
the Maine State Police.

"It's hard to say that DARE is not effective at all, and that's not what 
we're saying," said Feeney. "We're recommending that people consider other 
programs, too."

Kim Johnson, director of the Office of Substance Abuse, said she was not 
surprised to hear the youth council was tackling DARE and teen substance 
abuse in general.

"Any time we or other people survey kids about what issues are on their 
mind, substance abuse always comes in near the top," she said.

Johnson said the youth council's criticism of DARE has been backed by 
research, and her office helps schools and communities find more modern 
prevention programs that have been proven effective.

Johnson said she likes most of the youth council's recommendations, but she 
is not in favor of changing the teen substance use survey.

"They had a whole presentation that wasn't from (our office), and I think 
that misrepresented the survey," she said. "They're right, (the survey) is 
too long. . . . But this survey has been validated and it's one that a lot 
of states use. . . . I feel very confident about the survey instrument."

Johnson said staffers from her office have been present at every meeting of 
the youth council, which formed a three-member subcommittee to focus on 
teen substance abuse issues last month.

The council also is calling for a three-member youth advisory committee to 
report to the Office of Substance Abuse, the secretary of state and the 
commissioner of education.

"A lot of decisions we make impact them," said Johnson. "Hearing what they 
have to say about that is important."
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