Turning the drug tide

A series starting in the center spread of today's Monitor deals with a matter of vast, if little noticed, importance to the future of American society: the grass-roots counterattack against drug use.

Nationwide research by series author Hilary DeVries indicates that the tide may be turning after a decade and a half of increasing drug use in many sectors of American life. It details unofficial efforts by families banding together, by schools, churches, businesses, and student groups - efforts that are succeeding in rescue, rehabilitation, and prevention.

American society has been beset by drugs. It has also been beset by rationales for the use of drugs: to provide relief from pressure, pain, a mass-produced world, etc. etc.; to be more alert, more somnolent, more ''up'' to cope with work, more ''out'' to escape after work.

These varied (sometimes contradictory) excuses for turning one's mental controls over to an external chemical programmer have grown fashionable in the past 15 years or so. Too many Americans have indulged in intellectual dishonesty. They have told themselves that sniffing cocaine or gulping amphetamines is different, more modern, more under savvy control than the same process in an Asian opium den or Andean coca thicket.

Now, gradually, this upward-reaching civilization is coming to see that there is no difference. The enslavers have not exempted America. The gradual spread of this knowledge lies behind growing efforts to stop addiction before it starts , and to provide family, school, and community help for those who have become caught in the trap.

The success of all these efforts centers on helping each individual who faces temptation to understand that his or her life is not at the mercy of pressures, mechanization, a Catch-22 ''system,'' family or society neglect - and that his or her fun is not dependent on chemical enhancement. Once individuals can grasp that they have no such dependency, then dependency on the molecules in the drugs can be overcome.

The series beginning today sets down case history after case history showing how America can emerge from its latest national nightmare.

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