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$27-Million Effort Targets Demand for Illegal Drugs

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In what is being called the largest private effort of its type ever undertaken, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has awarded planning grants to 15 communitywide anti-drug efforts as part of a $27-million initiative to reduce the demand for illegal drugs.

The communities selected, all of which are required to target children and youths in their programs, will receive one- or two-year grants of $100,000 per year. Eight of the programs will then be chosen to receive $3 million over five years to implement their plans.

Foundation officials said the initiative, called "Fighting Back," would allow communities to coordinate all their resources in the fight against drugs. Those enlisted will include schools officials, community leaders, health professionals, law-enforcement officials, and members of the clergy.

"Although substance abuse is a problem that is national in scope, the search for solutions may best be conducted at the local--indeed, at the community--level," said John Brademas, president of New York University and chairman of the new program's national advisory committee.

Ruby P. Hearn, vice president of the foundation, said the grants would give community-based programs the time and money needed to carry out comprehensive anti-drug activities.

"We're aware that to date efforts to attack the demand side of the problem have been typically short-term, fragmented, and therefore disappointing," she said.

All of the communities selected by the foundation, the nation's largest health philanthropy, have between 100,000 and 250,000 members. Grant recipients include countywide groups, small cities, and neighborhoods in larger cities. All are expected to obtain matching public and private grants for their programs.

As a prerequisite for applying for a planning grant, all communities were required to form a citizens' task force on drug and alcohol abuse, as well as a communitywide consortium of all institutions that would play a role in reducing demand for drugs. Such consortia include schools, civic and religious groups, hospitals, social-service agencies, and local governments and police departments.

Recipients are required to draw up plans that aim to reduce the number of current drug users and limit the number of new users. To meet these standards, all recipients are required to develop:

Highly visible public-awareness campaigns;

Prevention efforts targeted at children and youths, including school-based programs, recreational activities, and prevention training for people who work with children;

Procedures to identify and assess drug abusers and policies for coordinating referrals to treatment programs; and

Options for treatment and for preventing relapses.

Ultimately, foundation officials said, the communities will be expected to show a measurable and sustained reduction in drug use by children and teenagers, a reduction in drug-related injuries, deaths, and crime, and a decline in the prevalence of drug-related health problems.

"We can't expect success in this fight unless all parts of the problem are addressed," said W. Anderson Spickard Jr., medical director of the Vanderbilt University Institute for Treatment of Addiction and national program director for "Fighting Back."

Foundation officials said they expect schools to play an important role in the initiative. They said some recipients may choose to use a portion of their money to boost drug-education programs or to provide mentoring programs for at-risk students. Others, they said, may use their money to begin after-school recreational programs.

Grant recipients include community and citizens' groups, city and county governments, health departments, youth organizations, and private, nonprofit groups. The following localities are included: Charlotte, N.C.; Columbia, S.C.; Gallup, N.M.; Kansas City, Mo.; Little Rock, Ark.; Milwaukee; Newark, N.J.; New Haven, Conn.; Oakland, Calif.; San Antonio; San Jose, Calif.; Santa Barbara, Calif.; Vallejo, Calif.; Washington; and Worcester, Mass.

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