Work To Eliminate Use of ‘Gateway Drugs,’ Report Urges

By Ellen Flax — November 21, 1990 3 min read

Washington--Educators, parents, and community members must place a greater emphasis on eliminating alcohol and tobacco use among children and adolescents if they are serious about creating drug-free schools, the final report of the National Commission on Drug-Free Schools concludes.

“America’s schools have two drug problems,” the report states. “Although intolerably high, the use of cocaine, marijuana, and other illicit controlled drugs has declined sharply over the past decade. The use of alcohol and tobacco, however, has remained at a high level.”

The commission cited a federally funded survey of high-school seniors in 1989 in which 3 percent of those surveyed said they had used cocaine and 17 percent that they had smoked marijuana during the pre4vious month. In contrast, 60 percent said they had used alcohol and 29 percent that they had smoked cigarettes during the same time period.

“The commission believes that the nation’s illegal drug problems will not be eliminated until the gateway drugs--alcohol and tobacco--are dealt with more effectively,” the report concludes.

The commission was established in 1988 by the same federal law that created the post of the nation’s “drug czar.” The commissioners’ decision to emphasize alcohol and tobacco in their final report ends a yearlong disagreement with the Bush Administration, which had wanted the group to focus largely on illegal substances.

To avoid a confrontation with Administration officials and some of the Congressional members who were part of the panel, the commissioners decided earlier this year to back down from a previously approved recommendation that all tobacco and alcohol advertisements be banned. (See Education Week, Aug. 1, 1990.)

The 26 panel members included 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, the former education secretary who earlier this month announced his resignation as the first director of the Office of National Drug-Control Policy.

The panel’s final report was sent to the Congress.

The panel recommends in the report that schools boost their drug-education programs and anti-drug policies to ensure that students become free of drugs. Policies and programs, the report says, should actively involve parents andel15lcommunity members, and should extend beyond school hours. Without community-wide support for school-based efforts, children and adolescents may receive mixed messages about the acceptablity of drug use, the report states.

Often, the report says, many drug-education programs “are ineffective because they: begin too late, long after drug use has started; are often slick, gimmicky, and one-shot efforts ... are sterile and boring; are not properly implemented; are not based on sound research and evaluation.”

The report calls for more training for teachers leading drug-education classes. “In many schools, students know more about drugs than their teachers do.” Such training, the panel says, should include information about tobacco and alcohol.

The report calls for drug-education classes for elementary-school students, and additional school4counselors to deal with alcohol- and other drug-related problems.

On the issue of tobacco and alcohol advertisements, the commission recommended that such promotional activities be taxed in order to fund ''counteradvertisements” against the use of these substances.

The report also states that the tobacco and alcohol industries appear to target many of their advertisements toward young people. If that situation does not improve by 1992, the Congress should consider banning such advertisements, the report states.

“I think the report strikes the right tone and says the right things,” said Lee Dogoloff, executive director of the American Council for Drug Education. “If you want to prevent kids from using marijuana, you should prevent them from using alcohol and tobacco.”

Regarding the panel’s finding that many drug-education programs are inadequate, he said, “I think it’s true with a lot of what’s out there.”

A version of this article appeared in the November 21, 1990 edition of Education Week as Work To Eliminate Use of ‘Gateway Drugs,’ Report Urges