The Governor's Drug and Alcohol Abuse Commission is hoping to put a doctor and lawyer in every middle school -- not for exams and lawsuits, but to warn students about the medical and legal consequences of using drugs.
Expanding a largely volunteer effort used in a few jurisdictions since 1990, the commission announced a "Doc- tor/Lawyer/Teacher Partnership Grant" of $88,000 to pay for a project director and administrative support in organizing teams and coordinating school visits.
Valerie L. Siegel, the project director, said that first-time users of "gateway drugs" -- marijuana, alcohol and nicotine -- are of middle school age, which is why the partnership program concentrates on those students. She also cited a 1992 survey indicating that 11 percent of sixth-graders and 23 percent of eighth-graders have used alcohol.
"Older students usually have their minds made up [about whether or not they will use drugs]," she said. "Middle school students don't have that kind of focus."
Doctor-lawyer teams have visited middle schools in Baltimore city and county, and in Prince George's, Frederick, Washington and Caroline counties. The program is recruiting volunteers for other jurisdictions.
"They go in pretty much unscripted and talk to the kids," said Janet Eveleth, communications director for the state bar association which submitted the grant plan.
She said teachers talk with their students before the visit and ask them to anonymously write questions for the doctor-lawyer team -- questions which serve to break the ice and spark debate.
"We have roughly 150 doctors and lawyers each in the program now," she said, adding the doctors and lawyers have already visited 200 schools, some twice a year.
The grant covers the first year of what is envisioned as a three-year program. Ms. Siegel said she hoped funding would enable the program to reach half the state's 24 subdivisions by the end of the school year, and the rest the following year.