Frustrated Mom Becomes A General In War On Drugs

December 10, 1991|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Staff writer

Half an hour into the session, everybody begins to loosen up a little. A couple of the guys lean back in their chairs and light cigarettes. The women stop fiddling with their pens.

Sharon Hall stands in front of the blackboard, smeared with overlapping diagrams and streaks of chalk, and calls out questions.

"OK, does anybody know what PCP is called on the street?"

"Angel dust," one woman volunteers.

Hall nods her head and looks at the others. "C'mon, can anybody think of another nickname? How 'bout when you spray marijuana with PCP?"

"Uh, killer weed," says another man, who should know. He later admits that he was hooked on the drug for six years as a child. He quit smoking PCP at age 14 after he was caught by a police officer.

"Right, or how about 'love boat?' " Hall asks. "You know, names for drugs are real regional.

"Back in '83, they were calling it 'killer weed' up in North County. But down inSouth County, they found that wasn't a good marketing ploy. You go up to a 12-year-old and you say, 'Do you want some killer weed?' and that kid will just run away. But you go up and say, 'Try some love boat,' and that's when the hormones are setting in, right?"

She bursts into laughter. The first time she heard the nickname, she was running a hot line for parents of drug users. One day, a woman called up and frantically asked her what she knew about the "love boat."

"So I go, 'Sure, I know what the Love Boat is. It's that television show,' " Hall tells the giggling group. "And the lady is on the phone saying, 'But Sharon, the kids are smoking it.' "


She's come a long way since then. Back in the late 1970s, Hall was like a lot of other parents in the nation -- "pretty naive" when it came to drugs.

"Certainly, our kids were a lot more susceptible to smoking a joint than our generation was," says the outspoken 50-year-old, a grandmotherwith slightly graying hair and an easy smile. "When we were growing up, it just didn't happen. Smoking a cigarette was pretty wild."

She had to "take the blinders off" when two of her three children got involved with drugs as teen-agers. (They've been straight for years now, says Hall, who prefers to talk little about that time.)

Her children galvanized Hall to action. In 1979, she began taking counseling courses at Essex Community College and started the parent-advice hot line in her home in Pasadena. Three years later, she became a certified addictions counselor and joined the county's Drug and Alcohol Abuse Prevention Program.

After coordinating community awareness andeducation programs for five years, she began to focus on the workplace. It was the late 1980s, a time when cocaine was reaching its popularity peak and growing numbers of businesses were recognizing the impact of drug and alcohol abuse, she said.

Her workshops, a free service to all companies in the county, are a linchpin in the county's new drug-prevention plan. Two weeks ago, public health officials announced they would take the war on drugs to the streets, homes and offices of every neighborhood.

The county used part of its annual stategrant in 1988 to develop a training program for supervisors and employees. But only a few companies took advantage of the service in the early years.

Awareness was raised by the federal Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1989, Hall said. When companies that receive federal support had to train and test employees, other corporations followed suit.

"At first, we were very reactive. Business would only call after somebody was in trouble -- an employee was caught snorting coke in thebathroom," Hall says. "Now, we're on the front line."

Last Wednesday, she spent three hours training nine supervisors at United Van Lines and American Security Systems in Annapolis. She's experienced nowwith big and small firms, having trained several dozen, from Leedmark, the huge "hypermarket" in Glen Burnie, to Arundel Oxygen, a tiny delivery service in Annapolis.

She's not the kind of person that lets a group fall asleep.

When she describes the effects of alcohol,she becomes an old drunk, her eyelids drooping, her head lolling back. Later in the session, she confronts one of supervisors in an "intervention," cornering him about his "drinking habit."

"How are you feeling right now?" she asks the red-faced man. "Embarrassed, right? And you didn't even do anything."

The group loves it. "The last time I went through something like this was in the military," says Patrick Allison, who recalls many sailors smoking marijuana while he was in the Navy in the early 1980s. "There wasn't as much information then."

A sales manager and father of two, Allison says he knows aboutaddiction because he smoked PCP as a youngster in Bladensburg. He kicked the habit in ninth-grade after he "got in trouble with the law and decided 'never again.' "

Now, Allison is concerned about his 7-year-old daughter. He realizes she soon will face peer pressure to try drugs and alcohol.


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