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Drug-Free-Schools Panel Curbs Stress on Alcohol, Tobacco

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Washington--Members of the National Commission on Drug-Free Schools made several key compromises at their final meeting last month to avoid a confrontation with Bush Administration officials and others over the stress their report would place on tobacco and alcohol.

The commission, which was created in 1988 by the same federal legislation that established the post of the nation's "drug czar," backed down from a previous vote to recommend banning all alcohol and tobacco advertisements.

Commission members also decided against making alcohol and tobacco the central focus of their report, which had been a point of contention with the Administration. (See Education Week, May 16, 1990.)

The panel's final report will be sent to the Congress in September. A draft version debated at the July meeting indicates that the commission believes significant improvements must be made in drug education.

The 26 panel members include educators, drug experts, and law-enforcement officials, as well as eight members of the Congress, Secretary of Education Lauro F. Cavazos, and William J. Bennett, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

In the draft version of their report, the panel members say that schools are often "reinventing the wheel" when it comes to drug education. Not only are good programs not being disseminated, they say, but there is not enough research being done on effective programming.

The draft report maintains that current programs are not compre8hensive, and that teachers lack the training they need to present up-to-date information.

"Students frequently know more than their teachers do about alcohol and other drugs," it says.

But the debate over alcohol and tobacco advertisements, not drug-education curricula and teacher training, was the main focus of the commission's final meeting.

While virtually all of the commission members outside of government supported the ban on advertisements, the members of the Congress and the Bush Administration officials voiced opposition to such a proposal.

The two sides eventually agreed on a compromise: a recommendation that alcohol and tobacco advertisements be taxed in order to fund informational "counteradvertisements" against use of the substances.

The final report will also contain language stating that the alcohol and tobacco industries have targeted their advertisements towards young people. If that situation does not change within the next two years, the commissioners decided, the Congress should be asked to "seriously consider" banning such advertisements.

Instead of highlighting the problem of tobacco and alcohol use throughout the report, the final paper will contain a separate chapter on these two substances, the panel members agreed. According to the draft report, the chapter will acknowledge that "alcohol and tobacco are the drugs of choice among students."

Congressional Action

The Congress, meanwhile, is considering several pieces of legislation designed to reduce drug use among adolescents.

The House last month adopted two bills that would increase funding for drug education. One, introduced by Representative Jolene Unsoeld, Democrat of Washington, would authorize $15 million in fiscal 1991 to expand dare, a program that brings law-enforcement officials into the classroom to serve as drug-education lecturers. The program, started in Los Angeles, is now used in 49 states.

The second bill, introduced by Representative Nita Lowey, Democrat of New York, would strengthen drug-free school zones and authorize $5 million to replicate successful drug-education programs. It would also raise the authorization level for training programs for teachers and counselors from $35 million to $50 million, and allow schools to use federal drug funds for after-school programs.

The Senate passed an omnibus crime bill last month that also contains anti-drug provisions. The bill would require a minimum 10-year prison sentence for those convicted of selling illegal drugs to minors or using minors in drug-trafficking operations.

The bill authorizes $20 million for states to set up "boot camp" style correctional facilities for nonviolent criminals, including juvenile drug offenders.

The measure also contains several provisions designed to reduce child abuse. It makes drug-related child abuse a felony, and authorizes a $20-million child-abuse investigation and prosecution program.

Programs that treat juvenile offenders who have been the victims of child abuse are authorized to receive $15 million in grants in fiscal year 1991 under the bill. The bill also makes the possession or viewing of child pornography a serious offense.

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