Expert Says Drug Education Failing

Expert Says Drug Education Failing
Posted by CN Staff on November 26, 2002 at 21:16:07 PT
By Susan Essoyan
Source: Star-Bulletin 
Marsha Rosenbaum thinks that "Just Say No" should be replaced with "Just Say Know." Her attitude dates back to an encounter she had with "a nice, middle-class Jewish girl like myself," she recalled, who wound up hooked on heroin. Rosenbaum interviewed her in prison while working on her doctoral dissertation. "I will never forget what she told me," said Rosenbaum, a medical sociologist.
"She said she'd had drug education classes and they told her that if she tried marijuana, she'd become addicted. But when she and her friends tried pot, it just didn't happen. So she decided it was a lie. And she went on to try heroin."Concerned that drug education efforts are failing because they often rely on scare tactics rather than solid science, Rosenbaum is pushing a new approach in her booklet, "Safety First: A Reality-based Approach to Teens, Drugs and Drug Education."Rosenbaum, director of the San Francisco office of the Drug Policy Alliance, visited Honolulu last week to meet with educators and the public and raise awareness of the issue. Although abstinence is best, she said, those who choose to experiment need knowledge in order to minimize harm to themselves and those around them.More than 30,000 copies of her booklet have been handed out nationwide, and it is now being distributed through secondary school PTAs in California.The approach is not without controversy. Before approving the booklet, a few PTA members in California expressed concern that it might draw teens toward drug experimentation, she said."Some people said, 'Isn't this opening the door for them?'" Rosenbaum said. "My response is that in America the door is already open -- wide open."Drugs pervade American culture, she noted, from caffeine, alcohol and tobacco to prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications and illegal drugs. Teenagers are naturally prone to risk-taking, she said, and need skills and knowledge to make sensible choices for the rest of their lives."After two decades of telling teens to 'just say no,' more than half of all high school students in America experiment with illegal drugs, and even more use alcohol," she said. "A lot of kids say 'sometimes' or 'maybe' or 'yes.' We need a fallback strategy for them that puts safety first."Programs should be based on scientific research, differentiate between use and abuse, emphasize the legal consequences of drug use and make safety the bottom line, she said."There's enough danger in drugs that you just have to tell the truth," said Rosenbaum, who has done extensive research for the National institute on Drug Abuse on heroin addiction, crack cocaine, Ecstasy and drug treatment.The "Safety First" program won some support Friday in Honolulu at a forum of educators, sponsored by the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii."I think what's really good about it is that it's a very factual approach, talking to kids about what they want to know and not giving them scare tactics," said Julie Halpern, director of student services at Mid-Pacific Institute. "The real information is scary enough. You don't have to blow it up by saying that you're going to become a heroin addict if you smoke pot."Teens know from observation and experience that marijuana does not inevitably lead to use of harder drugs, Rosenbaum said, and that most who try it do not wind up using it on a regular basis. When they are told otherwise, "students discount both the message and the messenger," she said. In a letter to her son reprinted in the booklet, she warned that although marijuana "does not often lead to physical dependence or overdose, it does alter the way people think, behave and react," interferes with their ability to learn and can sometimes make them paranoid.Shirley Robinson, a newly elected member of the Board of Education who attended the forum, embraced Rosenbaum's idea of having a drug abuse expert, armed with a laptop for research, available once a week at school for kids with questions."I like the idea of a voluntary drop-in center," she said. "I would like to have jam sessions, where kids feel free to talk, with a professional there."School board member Carol Gabbard said she has not studied the "Safety First" program but thought Rosenbaum "had some good ideas." One example was having students who are suspended for drug-related offenses do volunteer work at drug rehabilitation programs where they'll see people trying to kick the habit. "That makes it real to the kids," she said.Roosevelt High School Principal Dennis Hokama said the credibility of information given students is crucial. "We're dealing with kids on a subject that they know so much about," he said.Note: A San Francisco Sociologist Argues Against Scare Tactics.On the Web: http://www.safety1st.orgSource: Honolulu Star-Bulletin (HI)Author: Susan EssoyanPublished: Tuesday, November 26, 2002 Copyright: 2002 Honolulu Star-BulletinContact: letters starbulletin.comWebsite: Articles & Web Sites:Drug Policy Alliance Policy Forum of Hawaii Drug Education Doesn't Work Fear Tactic Mixes The Messages
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Comment #2 posted by scott on November 27, 2002 at 07:59:15 PT we're telling the truth
Rosenbaum's approach seems more realistic and useful than any other drug "awareness" campaign I have come across. However, this idea still fails in at least two respects. First, why would young people find this attempt at veracity any more compelling than what they were told before? Simply saying "OK now we're telling the truth" does not convince me that they are, and I doubt that youth are any less skeptical. 
Furthermore, I don't believe that Rosenbaum and others would tell the whole truth, as indicated by her statements about behavior changes and paranoia. Marijuana can change behavior, but the negative social stigma and stereotypical depictions of marijuana induced behaviors were intentional concoctions of groups opposed to marijuana legitimization. Rosenbaum's use of behavioral changes as a negative ramification of marijuana use must be viewed as disingenuous at best. The paranoia often associated with marijuana use, at least in my experience, stems directly from the legal status of the herb, not from its pharmico-kinetic properties. 
Secondly, and much more simply, one cannot tell the truth about cannabis and maintain its prohibition. 
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Comment #1 posted by The GCW on November 27, 2002 at 06:01:07 PT
Is DARE type conditioning, partly responsible?
MINOR HOCKEY MOURNS two Kelowna players were caught smoking marijuana... one teen had hanged himself. =-=-=-=
IS DARE FAIR??? Cannabis is as bad as heroin. It will forever make You a looser, and if YOu ever even see cannabis, You might as well give up right then and there, because it will kill You. 
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