In Chile, 40 percent of the children have tried the base paste of the coca leaves used in the production of cocaine. On the streets of Lagos, Nigeria, children as young as 5 can buy a marijuana cigarette. And in Estonia, the two major groups of drug users are criminals and youths.
Faced with these realities, 26 journalists from 24 countries went to Ridgely Middle School in Lutherville yesterday to learn more about the Baltimore County Police Department's Drug Abuse Resistance Education program in schools.
The three-month program, started in the county in 1986 and popularly known as DARE, involves 17 lessons taught by county police officers to sixth-graders about the hazards of drug abuse and what the students can do to refuse drugs. DARE officers interact with the children and try to be role models. Afterward, the students receive certificates of "graduation."
At Ridgely yesterday, it was DARE graduation day for 362 sixth-graders. Similar ceremonies were being held this week at other middle schools in the county.
The foreign journalists are participants in the U.S. Information Agency News and Current Affairs Drug Workshop in Washington. The workshop allows foreign media to meet with U.S. government officials involved in drug interdiction, law enforcement and drug treatment.
As Officer Anthony Maddox distributed diplomas in a noon ceremony, several foreign journalists took note of what such a drug awareness program might do at home.
"In Chile, we have a similar experience to DARE, but it's not compulsory in the schools," said Sebastian Campana, a reporter for El Mercurio. "There should be a program like this because in Chile, drug consumption is a problem . . . Children should have a solid knowledge of the consequences of drug use."
Seye Kehinde, executive editor of the News, a weekly in Nigeria, also said that drug education was not part of the curriculum in all schools.
"The best way of stemming the high incidence of drugs is getting at the kids at an early age," Mr. Kehinde said. "We must get them when they are young."
Anastasia Bastea, a reporter for Ta Nea (the News), Greece's largest daily newspaper, said: "Prevention and education are the only things you could do because the war against drugs is lost. The only way we can do something is to put all of our weight on education."
For Officer Maddox, the presence of the foreign journalists said positive things about the DARE program. "It tells me the program's reputation is very good worldwide. It speaks highly of the program. . . . I hope they adopt it if they feel it can help in any way."