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G.A.O. Examines Drug-Prevention Efforts for Youths

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WASHINGTON--Promising drug-abuse prevention programs offer adolescents comprehensive services and activities, the General Accounting Office concludes in a report.

But there is no sure way of knowing if these programs are effective, the report says, since evaluation efforts to date have been insufficient.

The report, which focuses on community-based drug-abuse prevention programs for youths ages 10 through 13, was done at the request of Representative Major R. Owens, the Democrat from New York who is chairman of the House Subcommittee on Select Education.

Common Features

The report, released last month, concludes that the most promising drug-abuse prevention programs for young adolescents share six features: a comprehensive strategy; an indirect approach to fighting drug abuse; activities that empower youths; a participatory approach; culturally sensitive programming; and highly structured activities.

These programs, the report says, do not make drug-abuse prevention their primary focus. Instead, the programs offer young adolescents, who are at the age at which many begin experimenting with drugs, drug-free activities and help them build skills that will allow them to make healthy choices, according to the report.

Since most organizers of these potentially promising programs have neither the money nor the technical expertise to evaluate their projects properly, one cannot safely say that they have proved effective, the report says.

"The challenge most threatening to the goal of finding solutions to the problem of drug abuse is the current lack of evaluation evidence to demonstrate the success of individual programs,'' the report concludes.

To improve evaluation, the report recommends that the Education Department and the Department of Health and Human Services widely disseminate evaluation handbooks and manuals.

It also recommends that the Congress allocate additional funds for long-term, national, independent evaluations of these community-based programs.--E.F.

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