Pubdate: Wed, 30 Jan 2008
Source: Gloucester Daily Times (MA)
Copyright: 2008 Essex County Newspapers, Incorporated.
Author: Ray Lamont


Anything that helps the youth of Cape Ann stay away from the scourge 
of drug addiction is a good thing, whether that addiction is to 
prescription painkillers or the familiar list of illegal substances: 
heroin, cocaine, marijuana or amphetamines.

So an $85,000 grant to Gloucester from the state attorney general's 
office that will allow the Health Department to hire a part-time 
coordinator of a program to combat opiate use among teens and young 
adults could be a very good thing.

We must, however, say "could be" - but not necessarily. Because there 
is scant hard evidence so far that government-funded programs reduce drug use.

The popular Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program in 
elementary schools is held in high regard by most professional 
educators and police departments. Its goals are obviously worthy. But 
officials who run the program have been notoriously resistant to 
providing documented evidence that it works, and a number of studies 
have concluded that it makes little or no difference in the future 
drug use of students who have gone through it.

So the best thing the Health Department can do is to be transparent 
about its program and to do a thorough, objective and transparent 
analysis of its results at the end of a year. It is well worth 
spending money on something that works. It is a waste of money to 
spend on something that is ineffective, no matter how worthy the goal.

There are certainly at least two indications that this money will be 
well spent.

First, the city is not in denial. Local officials are open about the 
reality that the city has a problem and are devoting considerable 
energy to attacking it.

Second, to its credit, the Health Department is being open about its 
program. Health Director Jack Vondras says it will focus in three major areas:

* It will seek to educate doctors to be more aggressive about warning 
their patients of the risks of certain drugs, to learn how to spot 
those who shouldn't be getting a prescription, and to monitor those 
who are on prescriptions.

* It will provide overtime pay for police officers to attend training 
sessions on addiction.

* It will launch a marketing campaign to combat the myths that 
experts believe draw young people into drug use.

Those are good things to do. But there is already plenty of knowledge 
about the path that leads to drug addiction. Those at risk are 
frequently those who come from dysfunctional homes. Sadly, addiction 
tends to be passed from one generation to the next. And police say 
teens who start on prescription painkillers, such as OxyContin, 
frequently graduate to heroin, because it is so much cheaper.

So the program should also seek to strengthen families to break that 
tragic cycle.

Anti-drug education is good, but it is just information. The best 
anti-drug program is a healthy relationship. Those who are surrounded 
by family, friends, teachers and coaches who care are less likely to 
turn to drugs for entertainment or to kill the pain of hopelessness.

A program that does that not only has a better chance to curb 
addiction but to give a generation of young people hope for the future.
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