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eJOURNAL OF THE INTERNATIONAL CHILD AND YOUTH CARE NETWORK (CYC-Net) ISSN 1605-7406

ISSUE 14 MARCH 2000   CONTENTS   HOME PAGE

SUBSTANCE USE 

Finding common cause in the campaign against drugs

Barry R. McCaffrey

The Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy talks about what his agency is trying to do in the US

An effective counter-drug strategy must focus on both supply and demand. The struggle against abuse must take place in homes and schools in every community. The problem presents itself anew as each generation of children leaves innocence and comes to maturity. We'll be able to overcome substance abuse when parents, teachers, citizens, and government officials all work together to teach youngsters to reject illegal drugs and accept healthy lifestyles.

In 1997, my office enlisted a formidable cross-section of Americans in this effort. The "Prevention Through Service Alliance" brought together forty-seven civic, service, veterans, women's and fraternal organizations to help reduce drug use among youth. These organizations represent one hundred million people from almost a million local chapters across the United States. They have now taken up the work of substance abuse prevention just as they strengthened the social fabric over the years with efforts to improve the lives of needy people within their communities.

We have 4,300 Community Anti-Drug Coalitions, in towns and cities within every state, that are devoted to helping youngsters understand the dangers of substance abuse. The individuals, families, and communities involved are taking responsibility to discover why people use drugs, determine what stops drug use, and implement actions to make families and communities drug free. To bolster their efforts, the U.S. Congress created the Drug-Free Communities Support Program in 1997. The program provides grants of up to $100,000 for a one-year period to enhance collaboration and coordination in fighting illegal drugs, alcohol, and tobacco.

The first grants were awarded to 92 community coalitions in 1998. Our office, in partnership with the Justice Department's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, also offers training and technical assistance in drug abuse prevention for these local groups. In addition, we help them gauge their progress by evaluating achievements. The Drug-Free Communities Advisory Commission, appointed by President Clinton, also works to provide information and guidance to these groups. Parents, youngsters, schools, and youth clubs are involved but so are businesses, media, law enforcement, civic groups, and health care professionals.

What works
In assisting local groups, we share experience and insight about approaches proven to be effective. We've found that any strategy to reduce substance abuse must be based on a comprehensive assessment of problems. The best prevention programs employ multiple strategies and are tailored to a target audience. They don't end with just one session; follow-up sessions reinforce behavioral change. Finally, these efforts must be open to regular scrutiny to measure results.

Raising community awareness and spreading the message about the dangers of substance abuse are critical activities, and we have some time-tested suggestions in this regard for local groups. Using the media to strip away denial and make people aware of both the problem and the solution is only the first step. Community coalitions are particularly effective when they don't just preach but help people develop useful skills. Parenting classes and media literacy programs for adolescents are two examples.

Curious youngsters need more than information and media savvy if they're going to stay away from drugs. They need interesting activities that allow them to resist the temptation of drugs. Art, music, drama, sports, and volunteer efforts have always enriched the lives of young people and motivated them to avoid destructive behavior.

More than 50 federal agencies work alongside the Office of National Drug Control Policy to create the infrastructure of the U.S. drug prevention effort. At the same time, thousands of local groups around the country help people avoid substance abuse and recover from the heartbreak it may have brought. Statistics show that we're following the proper course. Drug use in the United States reached an all-time high in 1979, with 13 percent of the population reporting use of some illegal narcotic. By 1997 the figure was down by more than half, with only 6 percent of the population reporting drug use.

Today our goal is to halve that figure again. We hope to reduce the rate of drug use in the population to only 3 percent. With so many citizens, families, and groups pursuing the work of prevention in communities across the nation, we are confident this goal can be reached.