Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Baby boomers may have viewed illegal drug use as something “new and rebellious,” but today’s teens are more likely to see it as something “for losers,” drug czar John Walters said this week at a conference held by a national youth development organization.

This change in attitude should be promoted, Mr. Walters told leaders and students with the Best Friends Foundation, which runs school-based programs that encourage teens to abstain from sex, drugs, alcohol and other risky behavior.

“Kids are the ones who get kids started” on drugs, and “kids are the ones where we can stop this in a positive way,” Mr. Walters, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, told The Washington Times.

Best Friends Foundation founder Elayne Bennett said a core message of the program is that “a best friend is a person who encourages you to be a better person.” Friends “should intervene” when they see things that aren’t right, she said.

As a youth leader, “you do speak up.”

The 20-year-old Best Friends program has assisted hundreds of youths to steer clear of substance abuse, added Mrs. Bennett, whose husband, William Bennett, was drug czar in the administration of the first President Bush.

In the District, for instance, she said, 7 percent of eighth-grade girls in the Best Friends program and 26 percent of eighth-grade boys in the Best Men program said they had used drugs in the 2005-2006 school year. In comparison, according to the federal Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), 22 percent of eighth-grade girls and 54 percent of eighth-grade boys in District schools said they used drugs that year.

YRBS data also show that youths in the Best Friends and Best Men programs also are significantly less likely to use alcohol or have sexual intercourse than peers who are not in the programs.

Nationally, teen drug abuse has fallen 23 percent between 2001, when past-month use was 19.4 percent, to 2006, when it was 14.9 percent, said Monitoring the Future (MTF), a survey that has been assessing teen use and attitudes about drugs, alcohol and smoking since 1975.

Older teens are becoming more wary of “crystal meth,” the survey said, noting that between 2005 and 2006, the portion of high school seniors who said methamphetamine was “harmful” rose from 55 percent to 59 percent.

In Montana, a privately funded statewide media campaign has been using shocking images to show parents and teens how meth addiction degrades people’s physical appearances, relationships and career hopes.

In March, less than two years after the Montana Meth Project started, the state’s attorney general’s office reported that teen meth use fell 38 percent, meth-related crimes fell 53 percent and workplace drug testing showed a 70 percent decrease in use of the drug. The campaign also has led to more parent-child talks about meth and greater disapproval of the drug.

“We get further [on fighting drug abuse] when there is a societal consensus” on what is right or wrong, or healthy or unhealthy, Mr. Walters said.

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