Forum shows parents are in dark on drug, alcohol use Sessions aim to educate them on growing problem

March 07, 1996|By Vikki Valentine | Vikki Valentine,SPECIAL TO THE SUN Sun staff writer Howard Libit contributed to this article.

It was billed as a general talk on a subject that should be familiar to any parent of a high school student: teen-age drug and alcohol abuse.

But organizers of a town meeting Monday at Glenelg High School found that they have a long way to go in educating parents about the county's growing substance abuse problem.

Many parents at the meeting -- sponsored by the 3-year-old Western Howard County Coalition -- showed naivete about the drug culture and heavy drinking increasingly present in county schools.

One parent seemed puzzled about what might constitute "drug attire" -- T-shirts with drug-related slogans, for example.

Another was baffled that a razor blade -- an item often used to prepare cocaine for ingestion -- might be sign that a youth is abusing drugs.

"It's amazing that it's going on under everyone's noses, and they're turning their heads away from it," said Susan Campbell, a Columbia psychologist and mother of two, who attended the session.

The meeting in western Howard, which drew about 150 parents, students and others, was just part of a broader countywide effort to fight drug and alcohol abuse among How- ard adolescents.

On Feb. 29, four dozen educators, law enforcement representatives, public health officials and others gathered for the first in a series of meetings concerning parental involvement as a means of reducing drug use and other kinds of risky youth behavior.

No one disputes the severity of the problem.

According to the state's 1994 Maryland Adolescent Survey, more than half of all Howard high school seniors -- and more than one in four Howard eighth-graders -- reported drinking alcohol in the month before they were surveyed.

More than a quarter of seniors and nearly one of 10 eighth-graders also reported smoking marijuana in the month before they were surveyed.

But Stephen Bounds, a Howard County school board member who attended the Feb. 29 meeting, said teen-agers are less likely to abuse drugs or alcohol if their parents are significantly involved in their lives.

He said parental involvement should be a key element in anti-drug campaigns, which should not rely solely on giving teen-agers information about the dangers of drugs and alcohol.

"All the efforts and education should not be downplayed, but it's not changing their behavior because the kids believe they're indestructible," he said.

Part of the effort to get parents involved includes the Western Howard County Coalition, which was founded in response to teen alcohol-related auto deaths in the western part of the county -- seven since 1988.

The coalition's panel discussion Monday night featured Cpl. A. J. Bellido de Luna of the Howard Police Department's alcohol enforcement unit, coalition members and county Health Department representative Robert Jones.

At one point, Mr. Jones gave a tutorial on the signs that may indicate a teen-ager is using drugs.

He mentioned hollowed-out cigars, which can be packed with marijuana; drug attire, such as clothing with marijuana leaves or other drug-related illustrations; and razor blades, which can be used to cut cocaine. Yet his talk left some parents perplexed.

"I hate to sound so ignorant," one parent said, "but what does a hollowed-out cigar prove? I'd like to know more about the signs."

Rosita Underwood, whose son will enter ninth grade at Glenelg next year, said such comments should be a warning sign to public health officials.

"When he touched on the razor blade, I bet at least half of the people didn't know what he meant," she said. "Everyone knows how beer or wine affects you, but they don't know what a kid on drugs looks like. They need to be told."

Sue Smith, president of the Western Howard County Coalition, said later that few parents have a realistic idea of the level of drug and alcohol abuse among county teen-agers.

Many parents, for instance, were surprised that at a winter dance at Glenelg Saturday, police discovered more than 13 cases of beer in student cars and issued five citations to students for possession of alcohol, arresting two others.

"I don't think we can come close to imagining what is going on," Ms. Smith said.

Howard County State's Attorney Marna McLendon, who spoke on the panel, agreed that parents must be better educated about drug and alcohol abuse.

"[Educators and officials] have known all along that parents are in denial," said Ms. McLendon in the wake of Monday night's discussion. "And we talk about it with each other," she said -- but not necessarily with parents. That's one reason the coalition plans more such town meetings -- an effort that Ms. McLendon applauds.

"We do have a problem in Howard County," she told the parents Monday. "And the best way to get to it is to do what we're doing tonight."

Pub Date: 3/07/96

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