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G.A.O. Analysis Says Anti-Drug Efforts Poorly Evaluated

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Washington--While federal spending on anti-drug education has increased markedly in recent years, very little is known about the effectiveness of such efforts, concludes a new report by the General Accounting Office.

The report partially supports the Education Department's push to make the approval of additional funding for programs under the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act contingent on demonstrated success.

Evaluations Found Inadequate

Evaluations of anti-drug education efforts undertaken through fiscal year 1986 have been few and inadequate, gao researchers found. The programs, run primarily by the Department of Health and Human Services' National Institute of Drug Abuse, included research, state grants for treatment and services, and project grants for prevention programs.

Early approaches to prevention--focusing on raising students' self-esteem and presenting factual information on the dangers of drugs--were shown to be ineffective in the few evaluations that have been undertaken, according to the gao

"Programs utilizing these strategies have been able to show an increase in knowledge but have generally been unsuccessful in changing drug-abuse behavior, which is the ultimate aim," the report says.

The recent "Just Say No" pro8gram, widely publicized by First Lady Nancy Reagan, is more promising because it is based on strategies that have proven successful in combating smoking, the gao concluded. Those strategies focus on discussion of social pressures to use drugs, teaching refusal skills, and dispelling impressions that drug use is widespread and acceptable.

But "Just Say No" has never been evaluated, the report notes, warning that anti-smoking strategies may not transfer to drug programs, may not produce lasting benefits, and "may not have applicability to all segments of the population, since research to date has been restricted to white, middle-class populations."

The 1986 Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act hiked federal support for education and prevention activities from $24.3 million to $246 million. The Education Department, which had not previously played a major role in the anti-drug effort, received $200 million for grants to state and local education agencies and national programs.

No evaluation of these new efforts is feasible before late this year, the gao concludes. It agrees with Education Department officials that changes in the legislation are necessary to allow thorough evaluation in the future.

The 1986 act does not require grant recipients to report on the success of their efforts. The gao supports provisions contained in HR 5, the House version of pending reauthorization legislation, that would require annual reports by school districts and states.

Senate conferees will back language proposed by the department that would require school districts, in their applications for funds, to determine the extent of their drug problem and set specific goals. It would also require them to demonstrate progress toward those goals to receive more money.

The gao report declines to support that plan, but recommends that states be given authority to terminate funding for districts that have not shown "reasonable progress."

William J. Lennox, a special assistant to Secretary of Education William J. Bennett, said in a letter that the department "concurs" with the gao's recommendations.--jm

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