Home » Prevention » “DRUG ABUSE PREVENTION – The Role of the Schools”

“DRUG ABUSE PREVENTION – The Role of the Schools”

These excerpts from 1986 should be read by anyone interested in the current drugs situation.  Nancy Starr is still working in Drug Prevention and is a real expert.


Some of the ‘drug education’  used in UK schools today is still the same as that described in the item below from America.  Asking students to ‘debate’ the use of drugs, or telling them they can make ‘an informed choice’ as to whether or not they use drugs is not only not helpful – it is counter productive.  We do not tell our children and youth that they can decide for themselves whether to wear a school uniform, or to ride a bike on the pavement, or to pay the correct bus fare – we teach them that there are rules and laws which everybody must abide by – and some things are simply wrong.  Parents would do well to ask their local school what drug education messages are being given to students today – and if educational packs are being used they need to see the them and look carefully at the actual and implied messages in the lesson plans.


Excerpts from testimony given by Malcolm Lawrence, Former Special Assistant for International Narcotics Control Matters, U. S. Department of State – presented at the Joint Hearings on the Problem of “Crack” Cocaine, held by the House Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse and Control and the House Select Committee on Children, Youth and Families, Washington DC, July 15, 1986 – The testimony was published in the Drug Awareness Information Newsletter (four pages for the full testimony) of the Committees of Correspondence (Connie & Otto Moulton, founders) from which these excerpts are taken.  –   Nancy Starr




I shall be drawing from my experiences as chairman of the board of an American-sponsored international school in Switzerland from 1965 to 1967;   as head of the War-On-Narcotics League of Montgomery County, Maryland, from 1969 to 1971;   as a special assistant to the U. S. Secretary of State for international narcotics control matters from 1971 to 1977;   as a consultant to the  U. S. Department of State on Freedom of Information narcotics cases from 1979 to 1985;   and from 1974 to the present as Coordinator of the Maryland Coalition of Concerned Parents, a group networking with various other organizations throughout the United States; as well as from my participation in numerous radio and television talk shows.


The American people are, quite frankly, growing weary of a problem that has plagued us for two decades.  There is a real job to do.  We must all face in the same direction and destroy an annual 100 billion dollar industry that threatens the moral fibre and economic base of our society.


 A major contributing factor to the tolerance of illicit drugs and narcotics in America is that many of our schools are sending out weak and confusing messages.


Since the early 1970s, educators have been brainwashed by permissive pundits and curriculum developers to believe that scare tactics and facts about drugs are counter-productive and that the solution to the drug abuse problem for students is to use a values clarification approach, apply compassion, give counselling, set up hot lines and at all costs avoid using the word “don’t” when discussing drugs.  The fashionable approach in drug education has been to let the children examine all aspects of their feelings, attitudes, values and societal pressures and then make their own decisions about whether to use drugs.


In point of fact, our schools never really did use scare tactics or give adequate factual information about the serious effects of drugs on the body, the brain and the genes.  Those who say that scare tactics and facts have failed are usually the ones who make the ridiculous argument that law enforcement has failed, the implication being that we have to give up law enforcement and try something else.  As any sensible person in the drug battle knows, we need all the help we can get.


In my 17 years of experience in dealing with the drug problem, I have read much drug curriculum and talked with many parents.  I have yet to come across any good, solid, effective education.  I have, however, become acquainted with some poor curriculum.  Let me cite some examples.


Heading the list of wrong-headed education is the values clarification approach exemplified by the widely used but highly controversial kindergarten through 12th grade curriculum called, “Here’s Looking at You, Two.”  This misguided package dwells on stress, fear, anxiety and unpleasant situations, but does not teach about the real dangers of illicit drugs or that taking drugs is wrong.


Another curriculum that misses the mark is called “Ombudsman,” which was developed with funds from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.  “Ombudsman” has very little information about drugs, but exposes 5th through 10th graders to such things as role playing, encounter activities, feelings charades, warm fuzzies, love lists, self-portraits, personal questionnaires, the trust fall, the human knot, who shall survive exercises, gravestone statements and death notices.


Even children in grades 1 through 6 have to suffer through a values clarification course called, “The Me-Me Drug Prevention Education Program,” developed 11 years ago with U. S. Office of Education Title III funds.  Little 6 and 7 year-olds learn all about their full potential, self concepts, decision-making, peer pressure, Mr Yuk, and developing positive feelings toward their teachers.  Unfortunately, “Me-Me” and “Ombudsman” are still being promoted by the National Diffusion Network of the U. S. Department of Education.


There are elementary level drug courses that classify all kids of substances into the harmful basket category—coffee, tea, soft drinks, aspirin, tobacco, cough syrup, beer, marihuana, heroin, cocaine, pills of all sorts, etc. —conveying the notion that the differences are minor.  To a small child, if something is bad, it is bad.  This type of education presents a real problem for the 7-year-old who may tend to equate drinking a cup of coffee with shooting heroin.


Some schools give 2nd and 3rd graders an assignment to explore the family medicine cabinet and take inventory of what they find.  It is amazing how curriculum developers try to encourage curiosity in children well beyond their maturity levels.  it is even more amazing that school boards approve such curriculum.  Showing a small child where mom’s sleeping pills are can be the same as handing him a loaded gun. (As well as suggesting that there are pills for everything)


About the most asinine approach I have come across is from the 7th grade drug curriculum in my own community, Montgomery County, Maryland, which opens as follows:  “Currently, community concern regarding drug misuse is centred on today’s youth.  They are growing up in a world full of problems for which they see no immediate solutions.  Young people in adolescence undergo bodily changes with related emotional pressures.  Superimposed on this is peer pressure, accompanied by the ‘fad syndrome.’  It is not surprising, therefore, that many young people are seeking an escape through drug experimentation.”


This message implies that earlier generations did not experience bodily changes, emotional pressures, fads and peer influences and were able to solve all of their problems.  Therefore, those people didn’t need drugs.  Such rationale is not only stupid, but is an open invitation for 12-year-olds to enter the drug culture.


My observations may be limited, but I have reached the conclusion that our wishy-washy approach on the demand side of the drug problem has been a major contribution element to addiction and death among our youth.  In a word, our schools are not tough enough.  The solution is not more values clarification and situation ethics, but factual instruction backed up by a no-nonsense school policy.


I have been asked to comment on the federal government’s responsibility to encourage greater school participation in anti-drug efforts and how this responsibility should be met.  I have a recommendation.

We need to know much more about what is going on in the schools.  As we begin this third decade of drug crisis in America, I believe it is high time we found out precisely what our children are being taught throughout the country and how school administrators are dealing with the drug problem.  Has the values clarification approach taken over completely?  Are there some effective programs and policies deserving of adoption and application by schools nationwide?


I urge the House Select Committee on Narcotic Abuse and Control to undertake a study to analyse how the public schools throughout America are dealing with the drug problem.  There are some 15,500 school districts, and it would, of course, be too costly and time-consuming to find out what each and every one is doing.   However, I believe the Select Committee would be providing a highly valuable service by surveying the 50 state boards of education and taking a sampling of some 200-300 local school districts—that is, four to six districts in each state—to obtain a representative cross-section of the following two aspects of drug abuse prevention:  1) the thrust of the drug control policies in the schools and 2) the nature and contents of the drug abuse curriculum. . .

. .

I am well aware that the National Institute on Drug Abuse is in the process of preparing a study on exemplary anti-drug programs in the schools, but I am also aware that NIDA has been less than effective in prevention measures and policies.  NIDA and its predecessors have traditionally had a soft-line mental health approach to the drug problem. Since the late 1960s, these prevention agencies have been followers rather than leaders.  Based on my years of experience of working with drug control agencies at the federal level, I do not think a survey of drug education programs should be left to NIDA, the Department of Education or any other executive body.  I believe that Congress should conduct an independent survey and make a set of recommendations as to how our public schools might be of help in curtailing drug abuse in our nation.


I have also been asked to provide comments today on what needs to be done to strengthen school-based drug abuse prevention efforts.  Drug abuse prevention is, of course, a blend of education and enforcement.. On the enforcement end, the controls include international and bilateral agreements negotiated by the U.S. Department of State to curtail the flow of drugs and narcotics into our country.


Down-the-line control is carried out by by official organizations  . .   Why?   We do it because it has been determined that the abuse of certain drugs is dangerous, insidious, and a menace to society and that steps must be taken to restrict the traffic in the interest of the public welfare.  In other words, as a nation, through those agencies charged with the maintenance of law and order, we are saying “The abuse of illicit drugs is harmful and, therefore, wrong.”


It seems clear to me that the reasons for the enforcement measures in the area of drug abuse should form the basis of our educational approach.  Indeed, the message to be emphasized in the home, in the schools and by the media should be the straightforward extension of the findings of the medical and chemical experts as well as the justifications for the laws.


A massive supply of drugs and narcotics has slipped into our midst within the past two decades, but this does not mean we should in any way foster the notion promoted in our schools that each person be permitted to make an independent analysis and decide whether or not illegal drugs are the thing for him.  It cannot be viewed as a civil right and a privilege for any individual to dabble in such substances and in the process drag others with him down the road to addiction and crime.


We should stop teaching the reasons why children take drugs and instead teach them the very basic and perfectly clear reason children should not take drugs.  The message should go to young and old alike; the young do not have a monopoly on self-abuse.


Drug abuse education can only be effective if it is done correctly, if it tells the practical truth.  There is no need for a pro-and-con debate.  Drug abuse is bad.  It can destroy the mind and kill the body.  In a word, it is stupid.  This is a very simple truth, a sad one reported daily in the newspapers.  Hence, we should moralize about the subject.  We should say it is wrong to abuse drugs and to abuse yourself.  We should say, “Don’t.”


Let’s face it.  A large percentage of our youth has been suckered into a drug-oriented cult, whether on a street corner, in a school yard or at a rock festival.  At the same time, many otherwise clear-thinking adults have been duped into believing that a vast range of social and psychological pressures has forced children to rely on a crutch to soothe their natural and normal growing pains, a crutch which is preventing a portion of our youth from maturing, facing reality and earning a decent place in society.


To correct the situation, we should cease agonizing over the problem and adopt a constructive policy in every community.  . . . . . . . Obviously the family unit is where the most good can and should be done.  However, there are outside forces working on the children which can very easily tear down the principles of a well-disciplined home. . . . . (referencing children) To do the “in” thing can be a powerfully motivating drive.  The friendly sharing of drugs is how it all starts; it puts the temptation there, leads to the first step and produces the “highs” that lure the child further into experimentation until he reaches the point of willingly paying for future supplies.


If the students and the family units cannot do the job of combating drugs, the community must somehow be pulled together, and this can best be done through the local school system.    Since children spend almost half of their waking hours five days a week, involved in school activities away from home, the schools constitute the most important focal point for the youth of the community and should spearhead the drive against drug abuse.  The public schools are a multi-billion dollar infrastructure working for parents and taxpayers.  They are well placed to do the job. . The selection of the school system does not in any way imply that the schools are the source of the problem, but is merely a plan to unite the community as a whole toward a solution to the drug problem.  The opportunity to assume leadership should be readily acceptable to any correct-thinking-school board or administration; to refuse this responsibility would be an error of omission.  The local school board should be pressured to move toward a position of leadership.  The parent-teachers associations and the network of business, professional, social and neighbourhood civic organizations should rally to the cause and support a consolidated campaign.


Dealing with the drug problem in the schools calls for much more than “busting” students and throwing them out of the system.  Rather, every board of education should formulate a policy Statement on Drug Abuse which for all practical purposes should apply to the middle school through senior high school.  The policy Statement should be a community education document.  Thus, sufficient copies should be printed and disseminated to parents, students, religious leaders, civic clubs, and other interested groups.


In addition to the regulatory function, the school’s Policy Statement should provide the basic thrust for the drug abuse curriculum in the classroom.  Instruction should be factual, uniform and uncomplicated.  It should be included in routine fashion with the treatment of other health hazards such as alcohol and tobacco and handled in a matter-of-fact way as a component part of the health education instruction.  Students should be tested on their knowledge of the subject matter to ensure proper understanding.  There should be no glamorization of the topic of drug abuse, no soppy mysticism and no soul-searching seminars on the deep-rooted causes and significance of the drug phenomenon in our society.  There should be an absolute minimum of films, and those shown should be selected with the greatest of wisdom.


I am firmly convinced that if drug abuse education is overdone, it will not only bore the students, but will expand the base of the problem.  Student exposure to all aspects of drug abuse on a kindergarten through 12th grade basis would not represent a panacea; it would instead only increase curiosity and led to greater experimentation with drugs and narcotics.  School authorities would do well to keep the instruction within the limits of an informative message and not treat drug abuse as a behavioral science by putting it on a psychological alter.  In my view, the 6th grade would be the appropriate starting level for most school areas.


Let me say in closing that the adoption of a constructive policy by the school system of each community in our nation would have a profound influence on the local population in the following ways: . . .

. . .

Gradually the community would learn that the supply of drugs, whether legal or illegal, does not necessarily create its own demand.  When these things happen, youngsters will no longer use drugs because they are there, BECAUSE THEY WILL KNOW BETTER.