Reducing demand for drugs among youth; The counterwave against drug abuse

A rolling, grass-roots wave of US parents, educators, church groups, lawyers, doctors, pharmacists, insurance agents, civic clubs, and politicians is fighting back to prevent drug abuse as never before.

It is throwing everything it can think of into the fray: prayer, posters, pamplets, comic books, volunteer task forces, seminars, living room meetings, ''hot lines,'' television, radio, treatment centers, fund-raising garage sales, government grants.

The wave is both caused by and aimed at a new flood of global drug abuse and trafficking which have rapidly grown to unprecedented proportions.

Closely watched for ideas in Western Europe and by the United Nations, the wave is one of the most significant social developments in the United States in the last decade, according to dozens of experts contacted by this newspaper in a three-month investigation.

It has the support, not only of the Reagan administration led by the President and Mrs. Nancy Reagan, but of many Democrats as well.

Almost universally this newspaper found that experts in the drug field see reducing demand as the only genuine long-term answer to rising drug abuse.

Reducing supplies of drugs is essential. So is law enforcement. Yet as Tamar Oppenheimer, director of the UN Division of Narcotic Drugs, emphasizes from her office in Vienna, it all starts with the individual and his perceived need to experiment with a physical substance to alter his consciousness.

Drug-taking is a symbol of ''self-indulgent societies,'' she believes - ''an escape mechanism, often used with alcohol and tobacco, which can have permanent effects on users' health.''

Others, such as Carolyn Burns, turn to treatment centers that use young former addicts to work with patients, and that counsel parents as well. Still others have found freedom through their religion. (See the Monitor's religious article on the Dec. 21 Home Forum page.)

Parents have a great deal to do in the US and abroad.

Governments can help create a climate against drugs, just as the international community can circulate ideas and give some financial help to selected projects.

In the forefront of the US education wave:

A former actor's wife. An Alabama pharmacist. A range of private groups. A voluble television executive.

The wife: Nancy Reagan

Democrats as well as Republicans applaud her efforts to mobilize public opinion.

''The administration itself seems to have no overall balance between education and law enforcement against drugs,'' comments Rep. William J. Hughes, (D) of New Jersey, chairman of the subcommittee on crime of the House Judiciary Committee.

''Budget cuts in 1981/82 slashed the law enforcement budget and closed down much of the federal effort against man-made drugs. Still not enough is being spent either on enforcement or on education and prevention.''

But, Representative Hughes said, Nancy Reagan's efforts were ''positive, excellent.'' The White House had good programs to rally the private sector.

In a statement made to The Christian Science Monitor for this series, Mrs. Reagan said the grass-roots movement was ''new and significant.''

''Concern and awareness about drug abuse is spreading rapidly,'' the first lady said. ''. . .During the past three years the number of parent groups has grown from 1,000 to 4,000. . . .''

As well as anchoring a two-part PBS TV special called ''The Chemical People'' (shown in early November), Mrs. Reagan appeared this year on NBC TV's ''Diff'rent Strokes'' and ABC TV's ''Good Morning America'' as part of her drug abuse fight.

Grass-roots action, she told this newspaper, came from the heart, not from someone making speeches or appearing on TV. But programs like ''The Chemical People'' had been ''a big help.''

Young people also needed the encouragement of their families, their teachers, and others to say ''no'' to drugs.

The Alabama pharmacist: Dr. Carlton Turner

Working from a wing-chaired, music-filled office in the Executive Office Building, Dr. Turner, special assistant to the President on drug abuse policy, speaks with the speed and fluency of a former radio announcer and with the verve of a Southern evangelist.

''Wall to wall policemen can't solve the drug problem,'' he said. ''We have a five-point strategy, which includes drawing the military and national intelligence resources into the fight against drug trafficking.

''What we really want to do, however, is to create a drug-free generation from children now aged between 7 and 17. We've selected alcohol and marijuana as our two targets.

''Parents are our primary resources,'' he added.

But government just is not believed by many children. Nor are parents. Yet the task is to reach 11- and 12-year-olds, the ages at which many children first feel considerable pressure to smoke and drink.

Dr. Turner has asked sports stars and television performers to help. St. Louis Cardinals' shortstop Ozzie Smith is on television saying, ''I'm a star, and I got there by not taking drugs.'' ''Mr. T,'' of the television series ''The A Team,'' says taking drugs is ''dumb.''

Dr. Turner's own small daughter told him she would ''probably'' believe her parents if they said something was right. But, she said, she would ''definitely'' believe Melissa Gilbert (a star in the TV series ''Little House on the Prairie'').

Miss Gilbert is now making TV appearances against drug abuse.

Comic book campaign

How else to reach children? Some 2 million full-color comic books have been sent to whole classes of fourth and sixth graders in 35,000 schools. They feature ''The New Teen Titans'' in adventures closely modeled on real-life experiences. A comic for fifth graders is planned.

The sixth-grade books were financed by the National Soft Drink Association. The White House says 7 million comics have been sold so far. Requests for 400, 000 extra copies have come in from at home and abroad. The comics are produced by DC Comics, Inc.

Also opposing drug abuse:

* The National Institute of Independent Insurers, which has 500 members, has had two half-hour warning films made. So far they have been shown to 165,000 pupils in 2,500 schools. One film, ''Danger ahead: marijuana on the road,'' consists of interviews with kids who have driven while drugged. The other is a mini-love story called ''Just along for the ride.''

''As insurers we want to cut down on drunken and drugged driving,'' spokesman Tanya Demchuk said. ''We started before the White House contacted us, but we do work with them. . . . Marijuana slows the reactions and causes drivers to focus on a single light or object instead of the whole road. . . .''

* The president of McNeil Pharmaceutical of Spring House, Penn., Jack O'Brien , was so moved by a White House conference with Nancy Reagan that he vowed to do ''something.''

As a result Herbert Browne, McNeil Pharmaceutical's vice-president, has organized a pharmacist's guide to drug abuse, distributed as a trial to 1,500 pharmacists in Maine, New Hampshire, and the Greater Boston area.

The Massachusetts Council of Pharmacy has held four one-hour seminars to teach pharmacists to speak in public against drug abuse. Eight to 10 people were expected to attend, but more than 500 showed up, and 350 of them are now qualified to speak.

''We're also sending out display easels carrying 150 brochures under the title 'What kind of drugs are kids getting into?' '' Mr. Browne said. ''We've sent out plastic pocket savers for pharmacists to clip their pens on, with 'Ask me about drug abuse' on them.

''If we can break kids away from alcohol and marijuana, we feel we can help them stay away from harder drugs.''

A national group called Pharmacists Against Drug Abuse is to be launched in January.

* Jackie Noyes of the 20,000-member American Academy of Pediatrics says the academy has sent out thousands of color posters warning against ''look alike'' (counterfeit) drugs.

* The White House has approached a number of churches and will intensify its efforts in 1984. It says that Seventh-day Adventists, for example, are seriously worried that their own children, raised without drugs, go out into a society saturated with cigarette and alcohol advertising and filled with drug users.

''We say to the churches, 'If you consider nuclear weapons a moral issue, how can you ignore drugs?' '' Dr. Turner said.

* John Hall, a dental technician in Fort Worth, Texas, reported that 500,000 Lions Club members in 16,000 clubs in more than 150 countries were now concentrating on fighting drugs just as they had raised millions of dollars to aid people's sight.

''Our philosophy is keeping the family strong,'' Mr. Hall said by telephone. ''Families need to be aware of drug symptoms and effects. We've sent out thousands of slide shows. We've had a drug poster contest in Hawaii, an essay contest in Kansas, and a speech competition in Texas with 4,500 taking part.

Lions are working with clubs in Japan, which has a problem with glue-sniffing and amphetamine abuse, in Zimbabwe, and against legalizing drugs in Australia.

Dr. Turner adds: ''We can't wait for scientists to agree on their findings about drugs. The strength of democracy doesn't lie in government sending information down the line, but in indviduals sending demands up the line. . . .''

The television executive: Lloyd Kaiser

Mr. Kaiser is president of public television station WQED in Pittsburg.

In comments made in the White House after a presidential drug education proclamation, Mr. Kaiser was enthusiastic about his station's program ''The Chemical People,'' which drew almost 11,000 community groups to TV screens in early November.

''Too often,'' he said, ''television is a hit-and-run affair, a good program and then silence. This time the strength will be in the number of community task forces that form as a result of watching the programs. . . .

''Everyone feels the trend against drugs now. Prevention is the key. Let kids know that if they don't take drugs, they are in the majority, not the minority. . . .''

His two programs were made with financial help from the Richard King Mellon Foundation and the Metropolitan Life Foundation.

In St. Louis, 13,250 people attended 106 viewing groups. In Portland, Ore., 11,000 went to 100 meetings. In Houston, 11,250 turned up at 90 meetings - and in Springbranch, Texas, 1,600 people gathered at one session. In an Alaskan village, 35 miles from Siberia, 250 out a population of 400 came together. Some traveled 60 miles on snowmobiles.

Figures are still being compiled on the number of permanent task forces being set up as a result.

The first of the two programs was projected on a large screen at a Seventh-day Adventist high school academy at Takoma Park, Md. About 100 parents showed up on a Wednesday night.

On the dais was a panel consisting of a policewoman, a doctor whose own son was on drugs, a high school teacher, an Adventist journalist, a young former addict, and Carolyn Burns, who has sought treatment for two of her three sons.

A permanent group against drugs has been formed from the meeting. Questions from the floor included: How can we stop TV beer commercials at half time during football games? Can the supply of drugs be reduced?

Next on Dec. 19: Part 3 - a flood of dangerous, man-made drugs is moving from the West into the third world.m

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.