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School Drug Groups Work, Area Experts, Educators Say

Jack Money Published: August 23, 1991

Alice, 15, is a veteran of drug and alcohol abuse centers.

Before classes started last year, her mother agreed to allow the Edmond midhigh student to attend a support group at school for past abusers.

Later in the year, the support group counselor called Alice's mother to tell her the child was displaying symptoms of depression.

The counselor asked if Alice could be brought to a local drug abuse treatment center for a screening to see if she needed further inpatient care.

The mother, though she had noticed no symptoms of depression in her daughter at home, agreed. After Alice was screened, a drug abuse center's assessment counselor recommended more inpatient treatment, saying that if the girl was not already abusing again, she would be soon.

But her mother declined to admit her for treatment, and Alice, whose name is fictional to protect her identity, has continued her education without any other apparent difficulties.

Did the support system, provided through the public schools, do the job it is supposed to do?

The answer from the program's coordinator and another school official is an emphatic yes.

And the program, adopted by Edmond schools less than a year ago, is only one of many the district and other area school districts offer to help combat drug abuse among youths.

Besides student discussion support groups, school districts also offer programs such as DARE, a police-sponsored program that teaches youngsters decision-making skills; D-Fy-It, which rewards students who remain drug free (verified through urinalysis) with discounts at local stores, theaters and restaurants; and others like the Quest program sponsored by Lions International.

Coordinators say the programs answer the prayers of teachers, administrators and academic counselors who have no resources or time to deal with troubled students.

Schools also provide procedures for faculty members to identify troubled teens and, once they are identified, offer the students and their parents information about available treatments.

The Source Anti-drug-abuse efforts in America's public schools are a reflection of efforts occurring in society as a whole, an Oklahoma City Community College student counselor said.

"Drug abuse is something that society deals with more up front now," counselor Mike Heppler said. "The programs are our attempts to deal with the problem. " Society has evolved since the late 1960s and '70s when drug abuse was ignored as something that would go away, he said.

Heppler said he thinks school anti-drug programs generally are valuable because they teach students how to make responsible choices.

That's needed, he said, because students' choices about everything from what to watch on television to what they should put into their bodies have increased.

"Our young people have to make more and more decisions daily than their parents or grandparents, but their decision-making skills have not developed at the same rate. " Additionally, he said, teens have role models who likely confuse their judgment.

"If you look at the role models for young people today, they fall into the categories of entertainers, athletes and even the professional world," he said. "The drug problem is present in those populations, so there's no group that is immune from that problem in our society. " Given those factors, Heppler said, teens need all the help they can get.

"It's very important that we help them develop their self-esteem and decision-making skills. " The continued ground swell of school-oriented support for teens is no accident.

The state Department of Education encourages drug-free schools through a program that supplies federal funds for participating schools. Current funding for area districts ranges from about $2,000 to nearly $400,000, depending upon the the school district's size.

The funds, paid from the 1986 Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act, are awarded based upon average daily attendance.

Dan Reich, the department's drug education officer, said every district is guaranteed at least $1,000 annually for drug prevention programs.

According to education department guidelines, drug-free school districts should: Show the ability to recognize, assess and monitor the drug abuse problem.

Be able to set, implement and enforce policies prohibiting drug use.

Have curriculum programs to combat drug abuse.

"Interact and network" with community groups and agencies that provide additional services.

Provide ongoing training to school counselors, teachers and other support personnel to bring them up to date on information about tobacco, alcohol and other drugs.

Have school personnel who can identify drug-related problems and determine appropriate responses.

Have students and parents who are involved in drug-free activities.

In Edmond's case, its public schools interact with Edmond's police department for DARE, the Edmond Chamber of Commerce for D-Fy-It and the Edmond Recovery Center for coordinating school support discussion groups and other district anti-drug efforts.

Reich said 85 percent of Oklahoma schools during the 1990-91 academic year used funding provided through the 1986 act.

That's up from previous years. In 1986-87, about 200 districts out of 580 were involved, he said.

Yukon schools program coordinator Casey Worthen said the goal of drug-free schools is a simple one.

"We want to provide support and education for kids who want to lead a drug-free life," she said. "That was our goal to begin with: to reach these kids and let them know there is some support out there for them. " Programs Specific Besides general anti-drug abuse programs like those offered by Lions Quest and DARE, programs are available for students having problems with drugs or with something else that could lead to drug abuse.

The programs target a small number of students and are group-discussion oriented. Some require initial parental permission to join.

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