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Drug Prevention Becomes the Next Victim of Budget Woes 

Monday, May 9, 2011 11:15:58 AM

By Matt Kennedy
Research & Grants Specialist

As teachers are laid off by the hundreds at schools across the U.S., drug prevention programs are being cut at equally alarming rates.
On the heels of the Safe and Drug Free Schools program losing its federal funding last June, the story is painfully repetitive for schools throughout the country. Schools in Zanesville, OH are about to cut a drug prevention program that has lasted over 30 years. Meanwhile, a dramatic increase in sales of tobacco to youth and cigarette consumption followed Massachusetts, California, Indiana and Minnesota’s recent decision to cut funding to its youth tobacco control programs, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.
The negative results of cutting prevention programs are being felt nationwide. A recent study from the Partnership at Drugfree.org and the MetLife Foundation reveals efforts to keep drugs out of the hands of American teens are failing. According to the study, the use of “normalized” drugs like marijuana and ecstasy increased at the respective rates of 22% and 67% percent since 2008, while 45% of teens didn’t see a “great risk” in drinking 5 alcoholic drinks a day.
While student attitudes about drugs in the Drugfree.org study seem shocking to many, they were somewhat expected by Steve Pasierb, President and CEO of Drugfree.org, who already realized the impact of dropping drug prevention programs from schools.
“We are troubled, but not completely surprised by these numbers,” Pasierb said. “In schools and communities across the country support for drug education and prevention programs has been cut drastically due to budgetary pressures.”
Bobby Wiggins, drug prevention specialist at Narconon International, believes the importance of clear drug instruction can’t be understated.
“If drug prevention is not pushed aggressively and consistently and if teens are not advised of the factual dangers of using drugs, the likelihood that young people will fall prey to drugs before they reach adulthood is substantially increased,” Wiggins said.
Wiggins belief about the dangers of early drug and alcohol use is supported by the fact that the study reports that teens who begin drinking before the age of 15 are “much more likely” than other teens to develop alcohol problems as adults.
One of the biggest roles of early drug prevention education is to provide factual information that will combat the drug myths that are prevalent in school. The study indicates that myths seem to run the most rampant among drugs that are not considered hard. The percentage of students using drugs like cocaine, methamphetamine and cocaine remained steady, while the percentage of students using drugs like marijuana, ecstasy, alcohol and even prescription medication all soared.    
“Overall, teens are wary of drugs they believe are addicting,” Wiggins said. “But it is wishful thinking that this will protect them once they engage in drug use.”
Without drug prevention programs, the dangers of ecstasy, marijuana, prescription medication and alcohol are marginalized to the point where the drugs are considered “safe.” No one is around to tell students that in the U.S., alcohol kills more people than all illicit drugs combined or that ecstasy is often viewed as a “mystery pill” because the street version is often laced with other substances like methamphetamine or horse tranquilizers. Instead, these drugs are allowed to be normalized to the point that 62% of students surveyed in the Drugfree.org study had their first full alcohol drink by the age of 15.
The statistics don’t lie. Drug use among teens has reached a crisis point. Cutting drug prevention programs in droves is not the answer. These students need help, but those in power have apparently decided that cutting funding to prevention programs proven to help them are a necessary measure in order to “stay afloat.” Whenever drug prevention programs are simply tossed aside, the question must be raised of what is being kept in their place.
Last June, the same month that Safe and Drug Free Schools program lost its federal funding, the State of Texas signed a 5-year $468.4 million extension with Pearson Assessment and Information Group to operate the standardized test TAKS and its successor STAAR . Scores on the nearly half billion dollar test improved in the 2009-2010 school year, but it also caused 1 and 10 seniors to not graduate. The question must be asked about whether spending such a large sum of money on a single standardized test is worth the cost of letting drugs and alcohol infiltrate our schools.
paxUnited urges lawmakers to reassess their spending priorities. For information about paxUnited’s affordable drug prevention program contact info@paxunited.org or call 1-800-650-5247.
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