Pubdate: Thu, 09 Nov 2006
Source: Telluride Daily Planet (CO)
Contact:  2006 Telluride Daily Planet, A Division of Womack Publishing Company
Author: Reilly Capps
Cited: Freedom from Chemical Dependency
Bookmark: (Drug Education)
Bookmark: (Students - United States)
Bookmark: (D.A.R.E.)


New Program Stresses How Few Students Actually Use

Remember those old T-shirts from Drug Abuse Resistance Education?
"DARE to keep kids off drugs." That program is slowly being dropped
by many school districts, and the T-shirts became a joke among
twentysomethings who took DARE classes and ended up smoking pot
anyway. T-shirt knock-offs appeared like "DARE to keep kids off
television" and "DARE to keep kids off hype."

The T-shirt about hype is a joke, but it's not all that far from what
many educators are, in fact, beginning to try to do.

Reduce the hype.

The new approach, which is being adopted in Telluride, stays away
from scare tactics and "this is your brain on drugs" videos. Instead,
it's based on a theory called "normative beliefs."

Teenagers often think that drugs and alcohol are everywhere, and that
everyone is drinking and smoking far more than they are. And,
researchers say, the more kids think their friends are smoking or
drinking, the more likely they are to do the same.

But the truth is that fewer teenagers smoke and drink than many
think, especially the teenagers themselves.

If educators focus on how few kids are doing drugs instead of how
many, they can try to get kids to realize that abstaining is actually
more common among most teenagers than using.

Sixth, eighth, 10th and 12th grade students from the public schools
and the Telluride Mountain School participated in a study last year,
anonymously reporting their drug and alcohol use. They also guessed
about how much their classmates were using drugs and alcohol.

The results of the study were presented to a group of concerned
parents at a couple of meetings at the high school this week. Renee
Soulis from the Boston-based nonprofit group Freedom from Chemical
Dependency presented the results.

What the study gives is not only a snapshot of how much teenagers
here use chemicals, but the gap between what kids think is happening
and what is actually happening.

"Kids and parents both overestimate use," Soulis said at a meeting
Wednesday evening. "It's important what the kids are doing, but it's
not as important as what the kids think other kids are doing."

According to the results of the study, alcohol is the drug that
creates more problems than all the other drugs put together.

"The one drug we're having the most trouble with is alcohol," Soulis said.

Only "one or two" students reported doing hard drugs like cocaine.
Most of the kids were smoking marijuana or drinking alcohol -- if
they were doing anything at all.

About one in three Telluride seniors smoke pot once a week or more,
according to the study. The national average, according to the
National Institute on Drug Abuse, is closer to one in four.

Nearly half of Telluride seniors drink at least once a week.

One in five 10th grade students drinks once a week.

Those numbers may seem high. But what's important to stress,
according to Soulis, isn't the number of users but the higher number
of non-users.

For example: two out of three seniors don't smoke pot on a weekly
basis. Four out of five 10th graders don't drink once a week, and
more than half of seniors didn't have a drink last week.

The message shouldn't be: the kids are all on drugs. The message is:
most kids are sober.

"If we can reduce the false perceptions we will automatically reduce
risky drinking," Soulis said. It's a fact that drug use is either
declining or holding steady, according to many studies.

One especially effective way to get the message across is to bring in
older kids called "peer educators" to shatter younger kids'
exaggerated images of drug use. Teenagers are often more likely to
believe other teenagers.

School drug counselor Sara Taylor told about the time she brought
high school juniors in to talk to seventh graders about drugs. The
seventh graders believed that the high school kids were almost all on
drugs; they estimated that half of high school juniors were on cocaine.

The juniors were shocked that the sixth graders thought so badly of
them, and set them straight; almost none of them use coke.

"Normative beliefs" is the latest tactic in the war on drugs, after
several other tactics apparently had little effect.

Scare tactics don't work, Soulis said, and she advises parents not to
oversell the evils of drugs. Marijuana can't kill you, red wine may
actually be good for you, and, while it's true that 90 percent of
heroin addicts smoked pot before they did heroin, it's also true that
nearly 100 percent of heroin addicts drank milk and watched
"Seinfeld." One doesn't necessarily cause the other, she said.

Another discarded tactic was the self-esteem approach. Kids that feel
good about themselves are less likely to do drugs, some reasoned. But
that had limited effectiveness, since sometimes it produced drug
addicts who felt very good about themselves.

Instead, Soulis said the best tactic is to "give them a reason not to use."

FCD is helping the school craft a curriculum of drug education, said
Peter Mueller, principal of the middle/high school. He said the
school was trying to continually talk about drug use and keep the
conversation in the classroom going.

"We're trying to keep the conversation -- not necessarily on the
front burner, but on the stove in general," Mueller said.
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MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman