Colorado antidrug effort draws upon `barn-raising' tradition. New program is keyed to getting every level of community involved

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Colorado has launched an ambitious program to combat drug and alcohol abuse that organizers believe could become a national model. The drive attempts to combine the dollars and ideas of government, private industry, and local citizens in an old-fashioned ``barn-raising'' effort.

Many of the elements of the campaign are familiar: school curriculums, corporate dollars, celebrity testimonials, the involvement of church and civic groups. Yet initiators of the drive believe their approach is more comprehensive and involves a greater degree of participation from the private sector and local citizens than most antidrug campaigns in the country.

``I don't think anybody has done it on this scale before,'' asserts Colorado Gov. Roy Romer.

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Colorado's program reflects the growing involvement of states in trying to fight substance abuse in the wake of the expanding scope of the problem.

In recent years, numerous states - including Massachusetts, Kentucky, Texas, and New Jersey - have launched initiatives that stress a more broad-based approach to dealing with alcohol and drugs. North Carolina, Missouri, and Alabama also are fashioning programs.

Most state efforts involve leadership from the governor or a blue-ribbon panel and enlistment of grass-roots support - from the support of everyone from teachers and business people to Rotarians and the local plumber.

``In the past, we looked at it as a law-enforcement or a treatment problem,'' says Nolan Jones, a criminal justice specialist with the National Governors Association. ``Now we're looking at it as an overall problem of citizens.''

A catalyst for Colorado's program was the availability of federal money as a result of drug-abuse legislation passed by Congress last year. But state political leaders, joined by some corporate chieftains, also wanted to tailor a program that would avoid duplication and galvanize local communities. They were prodded by some grim statistics: Colorado ranks among the top states in drug trafficking. Moreover, the number of heroin and cocaine users admitted to treatment centers in the state has been running at its highest level in seven years.

The program, called Communities for a Drug-Free Colorado, is being funded by some $11 million in federal aid and $1.5 million from business and foundations over three years. Involvement by the corporate community is expected to extend beyond largess.

Some of the area's top business leaders - among them Pat Bowan, president of the Denver Broncos professional football team; brewery executive William Coors, and Jack Vickers, chairman of the Vickers Companies - are helping spearhead the project.

``There is a higher level of interest from the top than I've seen in the past,'' says George Rock, executive vice-president of the Bank of Denver. Under the program, officially kicked off last month, representatives from the governor's office will be sent out to six regions of the state to assist communities in drawing up plans to meet local needs. Thirty communities are being selected for initial attention.

``Leadership'' teams will be set up in each town, and intensive seminars will be held on all aspects of drug-abuse treatment and prevention. Then local participants will devise ``action'' plans and work to get other individuals, as well as civic and religious groups, involved.

``People are realizing the problem is not something in somebody else's neighborhood,'' says Julie Fagan, project director. ``They're ready to do something about it.''

State specialists will follow up to make sure people are involved and evaluate what programs are working. Celebrities and sports figures will be brought in to encourage local efforts.

``I've never seen that done before - where you start with a goal and ask all segments of a community to support it,'' says Bob D'Alessandro of the Prevention Center in Boulder, Colo. He has worked in the field for 12 years.

But Colorado officials, aware that the road to eradicating one of the country's most intractable social problems is littered with good intentions gone awry, know they will have to get local folks involved - and keep them involved.

``The hardest thing will be sustaining long-term community involvement,'' says Mr. D'Alessandro.

Nevertheless, state officials believe the timing is right for what amounts to a populist revolt against substance abuse.

``My objective is to try to get every community and every organization in the state involved,'' says Governor Romer.

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