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The Drug Use Yo-Yo

by Donovan, Prisoner of War in America


In a recent Chicago Tribune article, a lurid headline read "Drug use up among kids aged 11-14." An accompanying photo showed senator Joseph Biden-who once said that hard-core addicts must face swift and tough punishment even if they are first-time or nonviolent offenders-blustering at the podium while senator Paul Coverdell and Barry McCaffrey looked on with stern expressions. "The evidence of increased drug use, especially by younger and younger children, is a sign that we are losing this war," said Coverdell.

We think: It's a sign that whatever the hard liners on the drug debate do is a failure. These comments were made after the annual PRIDE survey (Parents Resource Institute for Drug Education), an Atlanta based organization that hands out questionnaires each year to students in grades 6 - 12. The survey seeks to glean information on teen drug, alcohol and cigarette use and this particular survey was taken in 27 states and covered 141,077 students. It supposedly found that 24.6 percent of high school students said they used an illicit drug at least once a month. That figure was unchanged from the previous year. Among junior high students, 11.4 percent reported using an illegal drug at least once a month, up from 10.9 percent a year ago. This half percentage point prompted the glaring headline, but Thomas Gleaton, President of PRIDE admitted that the increases in 1997 were not nearly as steep as in recent years and in some cases there were slight decreases.

Drug use among the young is a definite and legitimate concern, but the doublespeak in this article is exemplary of the yo-yo nature of drug reports generally, which follows the media pattern of stock market reports and the price of gold: it makes yo-yo news, which is a long standing media tactic.

"Use is up!" cries Barry McCaffrey one week, and the next we read where it has "significantly declined." Less cocaine but more marijuana one month, and more cocaine and less marijuana the next month. So what is it? Fact is, no one in government knows diddly squat about drug trends, other than they fluctuate in spite of government efforts at every level: propaganda-wise, interdiction-wise, enforcement-wise and crop suppression-wise.

How accurate are these student surveys, anyway? Does anyone ever ask? Can eleven year olds be counted on to fill out such surveys with total candor, or will he or she be tempted to fool around with them? When I was a kid, I would have written down enough BS to land me in Leavenworth. This is similar to asking children how often they have sex each week. We wager such a question would garner shocking responses -- but they probably would not be the truth. The dynamics of these surveys are totally unscientific, allowing children to respond with suspect answers that they might think makes them adult-like. Nevertheless, they are utilized as gospel when it suits government purpose. The funny thing is, no one questions them. We do.

The survey also indicated that smoking is up among teenagers and these same hawk-eyed senators make us sneer, I'm afraid, for one of their esteemed fellows, Senator Jessie Helms, is Mr. Big Tobacco himself. And nicotine is a drug.

Yo-yos? You bet.

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