Tamper-resistant consumers, too?

The goal of tamper-resistant packaging for drugs is proper protection of users. But, the way some advocates talk, a reason for speeding ahead on uniform federal standards is to get Americans back to their high level of drug buying as soon as possible.

This impression provides ironic contrast with official and private efforts over the years to reduce the image of an America so sold on drugs that no wonder its young people turn to them, whether legal or not. Recall, for instance, how a coalition of state attorneys general in the '70s tried to limit over-the-counter drug ads on TV as encouraging a ''drug mentality'' among children. But the bombardment continued, inviting ever greater dependence on artificial means to solve every problem from heartburn to heartache.

No one with compassion for others' pain would deny them any chosen avenue of relief. But this is not to ignore that drug advertisers and drug regulators now look like an odd cou- ple who are in effect boosting the drug mentality just when it was facing challenges.

Americans apparently have been able to cut or change their drug buying habits in the aftermath of the Tylenol poisoning. The drug mentality also has been challenged by the stirrings of a movement which seeks to preserve health through wholesome living rather than resort to artificial cures. And, according to federal statistics, the use of all types of prescription drugs is actually on the decline after years of increase.

The decline has been particularly marked among the tranquilizers and other ''psychotherapeutic'' drugs. The movie ''Starting Over'' made a wry satirical point in a tense scene when someone asks a crowd, ''Does anyone have a Valium?'' - and everyone steps forward. But already this was an example of Hollywood cultural lag, for US doctors are now found to be prescribing a third less of these drugs than in the mid-'70s.

One reason is said to be physicians' increased identification of risks in the use of such substances. Another reason offered is a moral resistance to reliance on them. As one doctor said, ''A lot of people don't want to take drugs to solve their problems.''

Which brings the question back to the promotional aspect of speeding regulations for tamper-resistant packaging on over-the-coun-ter drugs. Is there a ''Starting Over'' sort of cultural lag in the assumption that consumers will return to gobbling up drugs in the American way if only they have confidence in the package? Maybe this generation, having recognized the overprescription of drugs in the past, will join those attorneys general who saw that you don't have to have a prescription to leave the ''drug mentality'' on the shelf.

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