Clinton to praise local efforts


Howard County's substance abuse programs will gain national prominence tomorrow morning when President Clinton comes to Elkridge to urge Congress not to cut funding for drug-abuse education legislation.

Launching a national drug-awareness campaign at Mayfield Woods Middle School, Mr. Clinton is expected to highlight the Howard school system's use of the federal funding and how the various county agencies have worked together to fight substance abuse.

"I'm really pleased that we get a chance to show off our drug education program," said Debbi Lange, the health education teacher at Mayfield Woods. "Everyone at the school works together to educate the kids, and this is really an honor to be recognized for our work."

The honor of a presidential visit is being shared by the school system, the police and health departments and the county executive's substance-abuse office -- a cooperative effort that has earned praise from both state and national drug prevention experts.

"There is a level of collaboration within [Howard] County that is something you don't see in many other counties," said Larry Dawson, the executive assistant for prevention on the Governor's Drug and Alcohol Abuse Commission. "The [federal] funding is designed to tie the schools and the community together, and Howard County is a good example of that."

The cooperative effort emerged during the past few years in response to the relatively high rates of underage drug and alcohol abuse in Howard.

For example, the most recent survey by Howard schools found that one out of five students has tried beer or wine by age 10, and two out of five have tried alcohol by age 12.

The survey also found:

* Seven of every 10 high school seniors -- and 20 percent of all sixth-graders -- have drunk beer or wine in the past year.

* Half of all high school seniors have ridden in a car whose driver was under the influence of alcohol, and 25 percent of seniors have driven while drunk.

* One in six seniors has smoked marijuana or hashish in the past month.

Such startling statistics have prompted substance-abuse education to begin as early as kindergarten and continue all the way through 12th grade, said Mamie Perkins, the school system's health and physical-education curriculum coordinator.

Howard schools receive about $145,000 under the federal legislation -- known as the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities -- to help fund numerous programs. The Congress has proposed cutting the funding by more than 50 percent, according to data supplied by the U.S. Department of Education.

"If that money is cut, it would really hurt our substance-abuse education," Ms. Perkins said.

Under separate funding, Howard police also have assigned one part-time and five full-time officers to project D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education), said Howard police Sgt. Bo Haslip. As part of the program, the officers go into every elementary and middle school in the county to teach fifth- and eighth-graders the dangers of drugs and alcohol.

"The D.A.R.E. program was really helpful for us in dealing with peer pressure," said Mayfield Woods eighth-grader Meghan Splaine, 13. "We learn ways to avoid being forced to use drugs and alcohol, even if other people around us are using them."

The most recent collaborative effort between the schools, county executive's office and Health Department will be a pamphlet distributed to parents at tomorrow's ceremony -- one that lists the top 12 questions about drugs that middle school students are afraid to ask.

Work on the pamphlet began last spring when Howard schools surveyed middle school students to find out what questions they have. The county's Office of Substance Abuse Impact Services collated the questions and put the top 12 questions -- as well as answers prepared by county drug experts -- into the pamphlet.

A major portion of tomorrow's ceremony also will be dedicated to Howard's participation in the Red Ribbon Celebration, a national drug awareness campaign.

Similar to the red ribbon campaign begun by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), the Red Ribbon Celebration permits people to display their intolerance for drugs by wearing red ribbons or fastening them to their cars. Although the celebration doesn't begin formally until late October, Howard's celebration will begin earlier in order for a commercial to be filmed with Mr. Clinton, the campaign's honorary chairman.

Howard County is one of just five jurisdictions in the country to combine the two red-ribbon campaigns, said Joyce Brown, the coordinator of the county's substance-abuse programs. This will permit county residents to begin wearing red ribbons during the October Red Ribbon Celebration and continue displaying them through MADD's holiday season campaign.

"That's part of the collaboration that we work for, and I'm sure it's one of the reasons that the National Family Partnership and the White House decided on Howard County."


A survey of Howard County middle school students produced the 12 most commonly asked questions about drugs and alcohol:

1. Why is it so hard to stop smoking?

2. How do you quit smoking?

3. Why do people get high? Why do people drink?

4. Did you ever use drugs? Did you ever drink or use drugs as a kid? Why?

5. How do you get addicted?

6. Can you get addicted the first time?

7. What is the legality of drugs?

8. What will happen if you get caught with drugs?

9. Should drugs be legalized?

10. What makes marijuana especially harmful today?

11. Why does alcohol do more damage to kids if they are the same size as adults? If a child abuses drugs, does it really stop their emotional and mental growth?

12. What does it (alcohol, tobacco and other drugs) do in our bodies that makes it harmful?

For a copy of the brochure with suggestions for parents on how to answer the above questions, call 313-DRUG.

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