Trying to fulfill `promise' of new antidrug programs. Students eschew scare tactics and opt for more subtle efforts

More and more Americans are saying ``no'' to illegal drugs. Drug abuse by youths and adults remains high in the United States, but in most cases it appears to have leveled off or declined slightly, according to the most recent federal data.

Now a growing number of students are trying further to help prevent and reduce student abuse of illegal drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes. And federal researchers see greater promise in such efforts than in traditional prevention methods, which have relied more on scare tactics or lectures from adults.

First Lady Nancy Reagan and the first ladies from more than a dozen other countries saw some student-run prevention programs, including a stage show with song and dance, when they came to Atlanta Thursday. They attended the international conference here of the Parents' Resource Institute for Drug Education (PRIDE).

``Take pride in yourself,'' sang two dozen dancing Delaware high school and college students as they rehearsed their number here for Mrs. Reagan.

Drug prevention programs aimed at students ``make people look at themselves in a new light,'' said Christine Bastian, 19, who helped start the Delaware group, known as Delaware Spirit.

She and four other students from other states form the Pride of American Youth Panel, which travels to high schools across the country for PRIDE to offer daylong programs. They teach the assembled students to dance, sing, learn how to talk about drug abuse among friends, and to learn how to talk to their parents more openly about drugs or other problems. The antidrug theme is only ``subtly'' brought out in such efforts, says Steve Courtney, 17, one of the five on the traveling team.

The aim of such programs is to help make it ``fashionable'' to say ``no'' to drugs, says Troy Garrison, national youth-activities director for PRIDE, which is based in Atlanta.

Nationwide, the number of student-led antidrug programs is increasing, according to PRIDE. Some 250 groups have contacted PRIDE for information, and ``there are hundreds more,'' says Mary Cobbs, a PRIDE employee on youth programs.

The overall level of drug abuse in the US remains ``higher than that of any other industrialized country in the world,'' according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). It is a $100 billion problem, most of that going to pay for law enforcement, according to the NIDA.

But overall, among adults and youths, ``the trends [of drug abuse] are level or decreasing,'' says Ann Blanken, a NIDA researcher. There are some variations, however, such as a slight increase in cocaine use among high school seniors, she adds.

Improved reporting of more realistic information about health effects of drug abuse, including seeing its effects on friends, is turning more youth away from drugs, says Jerald Bachman, a drug issues investigator at the University of Michigan. And youth increasingly feel that if they use drugs themselves, their friends will disapprove, he says. Parents setting ``boundaries and limits'' can help youth develop the discipline to shun drugs, he adds.

Traditional drug abuse prevention programs aimed at students have not worked very well, according to a NIDA report to Congress last year. Such programs either try to scare students, or come across as well-meaning adults ``preaching'' to students, according to NIDA.

The newer prevention programs put more emphasis on encouraging students to try nondrug activities and to think more positively about themselves. But so far there is little evidence that such approaches have much effect, although they hold ``promise,'' according to the NIDA report. Chart:Drug use among high-school seniors in the US


'75 '76 '77 '78 '79 '80 '81 '82 '83 '84 Alcohol 37% 37% 39% 40% 41% 41% 41% 41% 41% 39% 5 or more drinks within last 2 weeks Cigarettes 18 19 19 19 17 14 14 14 14 12 Smoking 1-2 packs or more daily Marijuana 27 32 35 37 37 34 32 29 27 25 Any use in past month Other illicit drugs 15 14 15 15 17 18 22 19 18 18 Any use in past month Source: Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan

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