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Drug Czar: Just Say No About Drug Use 



Source: Times-Picayune, The (LA)
Author: John Pope, Staff Writer
Published: December 20, 2002
Copyright: 2002 The Times-Picayune
Website: http://www.nola.com/t-p/
Contact: [email protected]


Don't worry if it's a lie, parents told.

Note to boomer parents: It's OK to lie to your children about your youthful drug use, the federal drug czar said Thursday in New Orleans.

"They're your kids, not your confessors," said John Walters, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. "Don't treat them like your peers. Treat them like your children."

But if parents feel their credibility will be ruined with less-than-full disclosures to inquisitive youngsters, Walters said they can still steer their children away from experimenting with narcotics. His suggestion: Temper accounts of youthful folly with tales of cultural icons whose deaths were tied to drugs, ranging from '60s figures such as Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix to grunge rockers such as Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain.

"No generation knows more about the harm drugs can do than baby boomers," Walters said in an interview. "They know the culture, and the body count."

And if the parents' drug of choice happened to be marijuana, Walters said they should warn their children that the dope being peddled today is much more potent than what the older generation smoked.

When baby boomers were coming of age, marijuana typically was viewed as a relatively harmless narcotic. But of the 6 million Americans undergoing drug treatment today, about 60 percent are marijuana-dependent, Walters said.

In terms of the addiction it can induce, "marijuana is twice as important as cocaine," he said. "Marijuana is the most dangerous source of dependency."

Walters, who this month marked his first anniversary as the nation's drug czar, stressed that point earlier Thursday at De La Salle High School.

"This is not your father's marijuana," he said.

During an hourlong visit at the Uptown school, Walters spoke with students and administrators about De La Salle's policy of testing students' hair samples for drug use and expelling anyone who tests positive twice. In the five years that the Catholic school has been snipping hair samples, 10 students have been forced to leave for drug-related reasons, school President Yvonne Gelpi said.

Every student's hair is tested annually, but administrators said more tests are scheduled for students suspected of using narcotics. While the initial positive rate at the 800-student school is about 4 percent, that rate drops to 1 percent the second time around, Gelpi said.

After the first positive test, the student, accompanied by parents, must meet with administrators to learn about the possible penalties, as well as the options of treatment and counseling. For some parents, Gelpi said, this session is the first time they discover their child is using drugs. For others, she said, it marks the first time they acknowledge it.

"What we're doing is holding up the mirror and saying, 'Your child is using drugs,' " she said.

The testing policy received support from most of the 14 students who met with Walters between exams in a 10-minute session from which school officials were excluded. They said drug use has plummeted since the program began.

"It makes me feel so safe to know I'm coming into a safe environment where drugs won't be there," said Lyndsey Jalvia, a senior.

The only dissent came from Vincent Vu, a senior, who said he thinks the hair testing represents an invasion of privacy. A better policy, he said, would be to test students only if they were suspected of using drugs.

"They don't trust us enough," Vu said. "We don't do drugs. Why don't they trust us?"

Walters, who called De La Salle's program "an important example for the country," said the combination of hair testing and intervention works best if the possibility of successful treatment is stressed more than the prospect of stiff punishment.


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