Students discuss pressure for drugs

Forum held to evaluate $1 billion anti-drug youth media campaign

November 02, 1999|By Laurie Willis | Laurie Willis,SUN STAFF

In candid conversations yesterday, about 60 Baltimore high school students talked about the increasing pressure to use or sell drugs.

They talked about seeing friends' lives get messed up because of drug abuse. One student said most of the 20 close friends he grew up with either died from drugs, are addicted to them or imprisoned.

The students spoke at The Urban Medical Institute in a forum organized by Congressman Elijah E. Cummings, a Maryland Democrat, that featured White House Drug Policy Director Barry R. McCaffrey. Its purpose was to see whether the National Anti-Drug Youth Media Campaign, a five-year, $1 billion effort to prevent and reduce drug use among middle schoolers, has been effective.

Overall, students yesterday said room exists for improvement.

Commercials featuring Grammy-award winner Lauryn Hill, rap artist Chuck D of the group Public Enemy and tennis siblings Serena and Venus Williams have been part of the campaign and were shown yesterday.

Many of the youths said the commercials would be more compelling if they featured stars who have overcome drug problems.

The students also were shown clips from television series that dealt with drug abuse and asked to jot down their impressions. Later, in four groups, they discussed their thoughts.

In many cases, they said television shows fail to be as serious about drug abuse as they should. Melissa McPherson-Cox, 17, a senior at Towson High School, said a "Cosby" clip portrayed parents as clueless when they learned that alcohol was consumed at a party in their home.

Conversely, parents in a "Home Improvement" segment did a good job of talking to their son about drugs, said Travis Hambrick, 17, a junior at Franklin High School.

The students also discussed what leads some kids to drugs. Peer pressure was noted as the primary factor, followed by a fondness for the drugs' effects.

Jessica Payton, 17, a senior at Forest Park High School, said she counseled a friend last year who smoked marijuana heavily.

"I talked to her about her future, the SAT, college, going into the service, etc.," Payton said. "She still smokes, but she graduated, barely, and now she's thinking about going to college."

Cummings said he wanted to get the kids together with McCaffrey because drug use is down among all teens, but it is up among African-American youths.

"I think young people want to reach out and affect the lives of their classmates," Cummings said in an interview. "But they need some help doing that."

McCaffrey, who became the country's "drug czar" in 1996, said gatherings like yesterday's are "the heart and soul" of White House efforts to steer kids away from drugs. He said the United States should spend more on drug treatment.

"There are 4.1 million chronically addicted Americans, and they are a mess," McCaffrey said after the forum. "In a given year, two-thirds of them are involved with the criminal justice system. When you lock them up, if you don't get them in an effective drug treatment program, you don't break the cycle."

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