Source:   Washington Times
Contact:    September 30, 1997

McCaffrey calls on parents to fight drugs

By Cheryl Wetzstein

No one is disputing that parents are society's primary ally in
discouraging young people from using drugs. The "kitchen table" is "the
most important weapon in fighting drugs," says retired Gen. Barry
McCaffrey, the Clinton administration's antidrug director.

"Parental involvement is the most reliable life preserver in a society
that tosses children into a sea of drugs, alcohol and cigarettes, which
floods their schools and saturates their TV, movies and music," says
antidrug leader Joseph A. Califano Jr.

But in a troublingly large number of homes, parents appear to have left
the front lines in the war on drugs: Many baby boomers are ambivalent
about marijuana use because of their own experiences with it and because
they hear conflicting information about the danger it poses.

A small number of parents even continue to use marijuana, virtually
guaranteeing that their children will experiment with drugs, experts

Lax public attitudes about drug use bode ill for the nation, says Mr.
Califano, who notes that the number of teens is growing and will reach
25 million in 2010.

He and others are urging parents to take a stand against drugs  even
if they used them as teens  for the sake of their children.

Enlisting parents is a top goal of drugeducation campaigns, such as the
Department of Health and Human Services' "Reality Check" on marijuana , which began last year.

Marijuana, the nation's most commonly used illegal drug, has turned up
in the news recently. In August, a federal study of more than 18,000
persons found that teen use of marijuana dropped from 8.2 percent in
1995 to 7.1 percent in 1996.

But the good news was tempered by other studies saying that a growing
number of 9to12yearolds are experimenting with marijuana, and 45
percent of 12th graders have tried it.

Teen disapproval of marijuana was also found to be slipping and a 1996
University of Michigan study said that 83 percent of eighthgraders
would disapprove of someone who smoked marijuana regularly. In 1991, the
number who would have disapproved was 92 percent.

Then there was the public derailment of former Gov. William Weld's bid
to be ambassador of Mexico. One of the reasons Senate Foreign Relations
Committee Chairman Jesse Helms maintained the governor was unsuitable
for the Mexico post was his emphatic support for marijuana as a

The Weld conflict points up the littleknown but fierce war that is
being waged within "the war on drugs."

Groups such as the Lindesmith Center in New York and the National
Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws
are arguing that the dangers of marijuana are "exaggerated," and that
subsequent prohibitions on adult use of marijuana are "irrational."

Marijuana should be decriminalized, legalized and regulated for adult
use like tobacco and alcohol, researchers associated with these groups

Fueling these arguments are studies showing that marijuana can ease
nausea and stimulate appetites in cancer and AIDS patients, and reduce
internal eye pressure in glaucoma sufferers.

It remains illegal to prescribe marijuana cigarettes. However, voters
and lawmakers in several states have signaled support for "medicinal"

All this adds to a general confusion about marijuana's impact  studies
both raise and quell fears about its health effects.

An estimated 70 million Americans have tried the drug, including 20
million in the past year. But according to the National Institute on
Drug Abuse (NIDA), only about 100,000 persons, mostly teens, seek
treatment for marijuana dependence each year. This shows that marijuana
is not a big problem for most people, promarijuana experts say.

Antidrug leaders such as Mr. Califano, who heads the National Center on
Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University , insist that marijuana is not benign.

Its mindaltering chemicals are very likely to be harmful to the
developing minds and bodies of young teens who are starting to use it,
he and others say.

And while most people who try marijuana do not go on to use other drugs,
virtually everyone who becomes a drug abuser has used marijuana.

Thus, even if parents are confused or ambivalent about marijuana's
effects, they should err on the side of caution and take a stand against
it, antidrug leaders say. And parents who continue to smoke marijuana
should stop immediately.

"Parents don't understand that parental drug use is almost a guarantee
that their children will use drugs," says NIDA
Director Alan I. Leshner.

"From a statistical point of view," he adds, "the biggest risk factor
for young people's drug use is drug use by their parents." "The message
that the kids learn most is the one they get in the home," agrees Dr.
Jude BoyerPatrick, who works with teens at the Pathways drug treatment
program in Anne Arundel County, Md.

Copyright (c) 1997 News World Communications, Inc.