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Refusal-Skills Program Is Called Effective in Study

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Students who have taken part in Project alert, a drug-education course that stresses refusal skills, are less likely to smoke cigarettes or use marijuana than students who have not received such instruction, a new study has found.

Project alert is one of only a handful of drug-education programs that have undergone rigorous scientific evaluation. A report outlining the program's effects--by researchers from the rand Corporation, who also developed the curriculum--appeared in the March 16 issue of Science.

Project alert, which was sponsored by the Conrad H. Hilton Foundation, was offered to students in 20 junior high schools in eight districts in California and Oregon in 1984-86.

In half of the schools, teachers alone delivered the eight-lesson program to 7th-grade students. In the other 10 schools, the teachers were assisted by older teenagers. In the 8th grade, the students were given three additional "booster" lessons.

In the study, the researchers compared the use of marijuana, alcohol, and tobacco reported by these students over a 15-month period with that reported by students in 10 schools in the same districts that had not offered the course.

According to the study, students who had taken the lessons were one-third less likely than the control students to use marijuana 15 months after the class. Students who had experimented with cigarettes and had taken the class were more likely to quit or to smoke fewer cigarettes than experimenters who had not taken the class.

At the end of the 15-month period, there was no difference in alcohol usage by students who had received the instruction and those in the control group. And students who were already confirmed smokers and took the class were more likely to smoke than the control students.

In light of the findings, the report says, early smokers "need a more aggressive program."

The researchers say the program was at least as effective, and sometimes more effective, in schools with a large minority enrollment than in schools with a predominantly white student population.

The report offers results similar to those found by researchers evaluating Project star, a refusal-skills program that serves 60,000 students in the Kansas City, Mo., area.

Project star, which has also been evaluated in scientific publications, has been shown to reduce student use of of tobacco and marijuana below expected levels for as long as three years after the youngsters have taken anti-drug classes. (See Education Week, Nov. 8, 1989.)--ef

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