Nineteen percent of eighth graders, 36% of 10th graders, and 47% of 12th graders say they have used illegal drugs, according to a study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the University of Michigan. These numbers should scare the living daylights out of any parent. But some may just shrug their shoulders and say what can I do? Others will look to government institutions for help.
The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, now in its 20th year, has consistently taken a diverse approach to combating illegal drug use. Its outreach extends to parents and community groups, and relies on celebrities and athletes to draw attention to its mission.
To combat adolescent drug use, the White House has allocated $5.8 million in new federal grants for random drug testing in public schools next year, its fifth grant award since 2003 for student drug testing programs. These grants will expand random drug testing programs into schools in 12 new states.
The White House recognizes, however, that testing alone will not solve adolescents' drug problems and neither will a primary focus on schools as the best method to reach teenagers. Their recent ad campaign against teenagers' abuse of prescription drugs is a step in the right direction, targeting not teenagers but the parents who may not be aware of the prevalence of drug abuse among youth.
The new focus was a result of a costly and almost unforgiveable mistake. Between 1998 and 2006, it spent $1.4 billion on anti-drug ads. Unfortunately, a study for the government conducted by the health survey research firm, Westat, Inc., found the effort failed and may have compounded the problem.
"Greater exposure to the campaign was associated with weaker anti-drug norms and increases in the perceptions that others use marijuana," the study reported. Among 14- to 16-year-olds, more exposure to the ads led to higher rates of first time drug use.
When delivered directly to adolescents, anti-drug messages fall on deaf ears. Rather than wasting its own breath and our tax dollars, the White House should mediate its worthwhile messages through institutions that can deliver it effectively.
Mapping America, mappingamericaproject.org, a project cataloguing the societal effects of the family and church, has found that adolescents from broken homes are much more likely to use hard drugs, according to data from the National Longitudinal Sample of Adolescent Health.
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