'This is your brain on booze,' kids

Underage drinking: Congress should allow drug czar McCaffrey to warn children away from alcohol.

June 01, 1999

IT IS too late for the House Appropriations Committee in Washington to rescue the eight teen-agers from Owings Mills High School who got themselves barred from graduation because they tried to sneak alcohol to their prom.

The seniors did receive their diplomas, but as unceremoniously as a six-pack exchanged in a package-store parking lot. The teen-agers disappointed their parents, who weren't able to celebrate their children's accomplishment.

Instead, they were left to grouse that "not everyone got punished equally."

The Appropriations Committee is also too late to spare the dozens of Carroll County students who were barred from extracurricular school activities this spring after being caught at a beer party -- a penalty that may cost some of them college scholarships or college admissions.

But the panel is not too late to do something that might save a life -- literally -- down the road.

It is scheduled to vote next weekon an amendment by Democrat Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard of California and Republican Frank R. Wolf of Virginia that would allow the Office of National Drug Control Policy to include anti-alcohol messages in a huge anti-drug promotion aimed at youth.

The educational effort, planned for five years at $195 million a year, is billed as the largest nonmilitary government advertising campaign.

The Roybal-Allard/Wolf amendment was approved by an appropriations subcommittee that includes Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Southern Maryland. But alcohol wholesalers are working to kill the amendment, fearing a revival of Prohibition.

That's ridiculous. White House drug czar Barry R. McCaffrey already describes alcohol as a "gateway" drug. Its abuse among teen-agers is unrelenting. An ad blitz to deter kids from experimenting with drugs must also dissuade them from abusing alcohol.

Otherwise, we could squander a ton of money as we swap one ill for another. As attention has waned, teen drunken driving has started climbing again,according to a University of Michigan study.

Congress should not fall into the trap that ensnares teens, and too often parents, by drawing distinctions between drug abuse and underage drinking. Ask the distraught parents in Baltimore County if they can tell a difference.

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