- The Washington Times - Friday, February 15, 2002

America appears to be winning the war on terrorism. We are not doing so well, however, in another wicked war that terrorizes many children on our home soil.

The war against substance abuse will take more than money and our sophisticated armed forces to win. It will take more parents like the Reardons of Washington.

Their 19-year-old son, Daniel, was taken off life support yesterday at Washington Adventist Hospital, one week after he was found unconscious and in cardiac arrest in the Phi Sigma Kappa house on the University of Maryland campus. Excessive drinking was the cause, according to his family's account in The Washington Post yesterday.

Campus police have not determined what happened, but have ruled out foul play. Daniel collapsed after the last night of fraternity-rush week.

The university freshman, a graduate of Woodrow Wilson High School in the District, was personable and popular, according to his family.

The Reardons have boldly said that they hope their son's death will provide a warning to other young people.

"We hope Daniel's tragedy has touched and sensitized us to the dangers of substance abuse. We hope to share our hard-earned understanding of such dangers with the larger community," they said in a statement released to the media.

Their public sentiments are not unlike those exhibited by Prince Charles of England, who took his 16-year-old son, Prince Harry, on a "terror trip" to a drug clinic in southeast London after he learned the boy was drinking and smoking marijuana while on summer vacation.

More parents, especially high-ranking public officials in this country who have experienced similar problems with their children, should set the same good example for others. If children see others suffer stiff consequences, then maybe they will think twice before lighting up or drinking up.

Very often alcohol consumption and beer guzzling is viewed almost as an innocent rite of passage. Now we know better.

University of Maryland officials have tried to clean up the old images of the campus, where drinking and drugging were once standard. The death of star basketball player Len Bias of a cocaine overdose in 1986 changed that. Yet, educators and parents must do more to inform their students to the dangers of downing one too many too fast.

In June, a study by the U.S. General Accounting Office estimated that underage drinking alone costs the nation $52 billion annually. Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which promotes a minimum drinking age of 21, contends that underage drinking kills six times more youth than illicit drugs.

The Associated Press reported earlier this week that a survey by the Partnership for a Drug Free America said Ecstasy use among teens rose 20 percent last year and has increased 71 percent since 1999.

Ecstasy is a synthetic drug considered part hallucinogen and part amphetamine that became popular in the 1990s at "raves" or dance parties. Teens believe it is harmless; it causes brain damage.

In the same study of 6,937 teens, 12 percent said they used Ecstasy. Marijuana remains the most popular drug among teens with 41 percent saying they have tried it. Inhalants such as glue were used by 18 percent, methamphetamines by 11 percent, cocaine or crack by 9 percent and heroin by 4 percent.

Although alcohol and tobacco use declined slightly from the previous year's study, 53 percent of teens reported drinking in 2001.

On Tuesday, President Bush who has had his own share of shame involving alcohol use stated that at least 50 percent of high school seniors say they have experimented with illegal drugs at least once before graduation. That drug use "wreaks havoc on our families," and "destroys people's ambitions and hopes," he said.

He did not, however, mention his daughters' problems with underage drinking because the Bushes have said it is a private family matter. To avoid using their example is to miss an opportunity to bring greater attention to the issue that many families, like the Reardons, are facing.

It's a good thing that Mr. Bush aims to decrease the demand for illegal drugs by the estimated 3.9 million American users by 10 percent in two years and 25 percent in five years. To that end, he set aside $644 million for the Safe and Drug Free Schools Program, which targets youths ages 12 to 17.

Critics say the $3.8 billion for drug treatment an increase of 6 percent doesn't go far enough. But the president's statements do acknowlege that we have a serious substance problem in this country that threatens our nation's future prosperity as much a terrorist attack threatens our security.

We need education, treatment, and, of course, law enforcement to win the war against drug use. More than anything else, we need vigilant parents who keep their eyes on their children, realizing that their gregarious or grumpy children can get caught up in drinking and drugging just as easily as any other.


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