Concerned about drug use by teen-agers in east Columbia, parents and school officials have started an anti-substance abuse organization to educate children and parents and to seek solutions to the problem.
The group -- the Eastern Coalition -- was formed in July and has 65 members. Initially, the members are targeting teen-agers at Oakland Mills High, Oakland Mills Middle and Owen Brown Middle schools, but as the group grows, it would like to include other schools in east Columbia.
The group will hold its first countywide meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday at Oakland Mills High School on Kilimanjaro Road. Youngsters who have used drugs are among the planned speakers at the meeting, which is designed to open lines of communication between adults and youngsters and help define strategies.
Another meeting is planned for Oct. 10 to ask the business community for support, especially in raising money to help pay for the coalition's new monthly newsletter.
"We've got a major problem and we can't solve it alone," said Lynda Mitic, Oakland Mills High School's vice principal and a founder of the coalition.
Last week, a survey by the Maryland Department of Education found that from 1992 to 1994, the use of marijuana and LSD among Howard high school seniors doubled. The survey of sixth-, eighth-, 10th- and 12th- graders also found that the number of students who used the potent psychedelic drug PCP in the past year doubled at all grade levels.
"Once you're involved in it, it takes a long time to get out," said mother Nancy Mitchell, another founding member of the group. "I've seen it in my own brother."
Her brother began using drugs, including LSD, at 18 and continued to age 33. "He was saved. God saved him," she said. "He's never gone back to it."
If the coalition is successful, members will save youngsters from taking a similarly self-destructive path, she said.
"The main purpose in all this is to get involved and help kids that are having so much pressure put upon them from having to do these things and give them some kind of activities," Mrs. Mitchell said.
Mrs. Mitic said the 1,100-member student body at Oakland Mills includes students who have used or are using drugs.
"It's something that walks through our doors every day, and we have to deal with it," she said. "There is certainly a sense we are beating our heads against the walls."
Though teachers and students may suspect drug use, "it's very difficult to pin down" how widespread the problem is, she said. But teachers consider tardiness, disruptive behavior and poor academic performance signs of student drug use.
Mrs. Mitic, who also heads the high school's student support team of staff members who help troubled students, said she's even heard younger students are using drugs.
That's why the coalition also plans to work with middle school students and parents.
The coalition, similar to the Western Howard County Coalition in Glenelg, grew out of a 30-minute conversation Mrs. Mitchell and Mrs. Mitic had on the school's parking lot in the spring.
After that, the coalition held a meeting to introduce themselves to the community and encouraged parents to make sure there was no alcohol in their homes during teen parties.
They also formed four committees: parent support, community education, school climate and legislative committee. Later, they held a parent workshop.
One of the coalition's main objectives is to give teens something positive to do to avoid drugs and other kinds of trouble.
"If we can just help one person, we've been helping the world," Mrs. Mitchell said.