The parent drug-prevention movement emerged in the latter half of the 1970s in response to the greatest escalation in drug use by children and adolescents in the history of the world. It originated with a number of people, who founded several different national organizations to lead the parent movement.
In August 1976, an Atlanta mother, Marsha Keith Mannat Schuchard, Ph.D., and her husband, Emory University professor Ronald Schuchard, Ph.D., discovered at their eldest daughter's thirteenth birthday party that she and most of her friends were using drugs that evening. In response, the family organized the nation's first parent-peer group. Such groups consist of parents whose children are each others friends. The parents come together to establish age-appropriate social and behavioral guidelines they agree to adhere to in order to protect their children and help them avoid unhealthy and destructive behaviors during adolescence. In a very short time, the young people whose parents formed this first parent-peer group stopped using drugs and returned to the productive behaviors in which they'd been engaged before they entered the drug culture. Dr. Schuchard later wrote about this experience in Parents, Peers and Pot, a book the National Institute on Drug Abuse published and distributed free to the more than one million people who requested it during the 1980s.
In the fall of 1977 a group of concerned Atlanta citizens formed National Families in Action. Founders included Keith Schuchard and Sue Rusche. Mrs. Rusche later became the organization's executive director. This organization called attention to the social and environmental factors that seemed to promote the use of illicit drugs. Its purpose is twofold: 1) to replace commercial and societal messages that glamorize drug use with accurate information based on scientific research about drug effects, and 2) to help people put this information to use by organizing community-based parent drug-prevention groups. At the time of its founding, National Families in Action responded to the explosion in all communities of head shops, which appeared to target children and teenagers as potential customers. Drug users called themselves "heads"acid heads," "pot heads," "coke heads," etc. Head shops were places that sold books and magazines that taught people how to use drugs, and toys and gadgets to assist and enhance drug taking. The materials head shops sold were called drug paraphernalia. In January 1978, National Families in Action succeeded in getting the Georgia Legislature to pass the nation's first laws banning the sale of drug paraphernalia.
At about the same time, Otto and Connie Moulton, of Danvers, Massachusetts, founded Committees of Correspondence. Their goal was to alert citizens about the activities of drug-culture and drug-policy organizations that advocate for the decriminalization and legalization of marijuana, cocaine, heroin, PCP, and other illicit drugs. They began sending out packets they called "Otto Bombs," detailing information about the local, state, and federal lobbying activities of drug-legalization organizations such as the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), whose board and advisory board at the time consisted of many drug-paraphernalia manufacturers and publishers. Patterned after the original Committees of Correspondence, founded by our forefathers to uphold the rights of colonists before and during the Revolutionary War, the modern-day version seeks to uphold the rights of citizens to be drug-free. A periodic newsletter presents information from researchers and doctors that refutes medical and scientific claims made by legalization proponents. Committees of Correspondence also tracks the lobbying efforts of other organizations that advocate legalizing drugs, including the Drug Abuse Council in the 1970s and the Drug Policy Foundation in the 1990s.
In April 1978, Thomas "Buddy" Gleaton, Ed.D., invited Keith Schuchard and Sue Rusche to address the Fourth Annual Southeast Regional Drug Conference. Gleaton held the conference for drug-education professionals at Georgia State University, where he taught. He also invited officials from various federal agencies. Many accepted, particularly from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The Parents' Resource Institute for Drug Education (PRIDE) was founded in the summer of 1978, following this conference.
Publicity generated by the passage of Georgia's drug paraphernalia laws, by the Fourth Southeast Drug Conference and, later, by the publication of Parents, Peers and Pot, brought requests for help from parents throughout the United States. These parents wanted to form parent groups to ban drug paraphernalia sales in their cities, towns, and states, and to prevent substance abuse among their children in their families and in their communities. For the next several years, leaders from National Families in Action, PRIDE, Committees of Correspondence, and other national organizations, along with leaders of emerging groups from various states, traveled across the nation helping parents form prevention groups. A contract the National Institute on Drug Abuse awarded to Pyramid made much of this work possible. Pyramid hired parent-group leaders as consultants and paid their expenses to travel to communities that sought their help in organizing groups.
One of the first groups to form outside Georgia was Naples (Florida) Informed Parents, led by Pat and Bill Barton. The Florida leaders joined those from Georgia and Massachusetts to help parents in other states form similar groups. By 1979, hundreds and perhaps thousands of parent groups had organized across the nation. In January 1979, Senator Charles Mathias (D-MD) held Congressional hearings on the harmful effects of marijuana, and invited many parent-group leaders, along with scientists, to Washington to testify. The parent leaders took advantage of this opportunity to be together for the first time and discussed the need to form a Washington-based organization that could represent their interests with both Congress and the federal agencies that were making and implementing national drug policy. They agreed to meet at the Fifth Annual Southeast Regional Drug Conference, now known as the PRIDE conference, in Atlanta in the spring of 1979. There, they founded the National Federation of Parents for Drug-Free Youth. Pat and Bill Barton were elected as the group's co-presidents and a Maryland parent group leader, Joyce Nalepka, later became the Federation's executive director.
The summer of 1979 was an election year, and parent groups worked hard to get drug-abuse-prevention policy on the agendas of Presidential candidates. After the election, the National Federation of Parents for Drug-Free Youth led a massive letter-writing campaign to President-elect Ronald Reagan, asking him to bring Carlton Turner, Ph.D., to the White House as his drug-policy advisor. Dr. Turner, of the University of Mississippi, was responsible for growing all marijuana used in scientific research throughout the world. He had devoted much time to educating parents at various conferences about the pharmacological effects of marijuana on the brain and body, and had earned their trust. President Reagan acted on the parent federation's appeals and selected Dr. Turner as his drug advisor.
Shortly after the inauguration, Dr. Turner helped the federation arrange for parent-group leaders to brief Mrs. Reagan on the prevention movement and enlist her support for their cause. She not only responded positively, but served informally as the national spokesperson for the parent drug-prevention movement. A few years later, President Reagan appointed parent-group leader Ian Macdonald, M.D., a pediatrician from Florida, to serve as Administrator of the Alcohol, Drug Abuse and Mental Health Administration (ADAMHA), the federal agency in the Department of Health and Human Services that was responsible for substance abuse and mental health research and services. One of Dr. Macdonald's legacies is the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention (then called the Office for Substance Abuse Prevention, or OSAP), which he created as an office during his tenure at ADAMHA. Congress formally authorized OSAP as a center, changed its name to CSAP, and funded it in the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986.
Through this kind of concerted effort, parents were able to place key policy-makers in the federal government to emphasize and implement their goals: To prevent the use of illegal drugs (and alcohol and tobacco among those underage) before it starts, to help drug users quit, and to find treatment for those who are addicted and cannot quit by themselves. The parent movement was the first leg of the national drug-prevention effort that was active in the year 2000. It is generally credited with developing and carrying out strategies that reversed the drug policies of the 1970s, which seemed to increase drug use throughout that decade.
These strategies included outlawing head shops and the sale of drug paraphernalia, stopping the decriminalization/legalization of marijuana (and other drugs), and insisting that drug-education materials contain "no-use" messages, based on accurate scientific information about the effects of drugs on health and on local, state, and federal laws and international treaties. As a result of effectively implementing such strategies, both Robert DuPont, M.D., and William Pollin, M.D., the first two directors of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, credit the parent movement with being responsible for reversing the 1970s escalation in drug use by children, adolescents, and young adults, and for initiating the reduction in regular drug use that took place among all ages between 1979 and 1992.
Beginning in the late 1980s, the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention made demonstration grants available to support local, grass-roots, drug-prevention efforts targeting high-risk youth, primarily in African-American, Hispanic, Asian-American, and Native American Indian communities. Many new parent and family-based groups emerged to join the parent drug-prevention effort as a result. So did national groups representing each of these populations, including African-American Parents for Drug Prevention, based in Cincinnati, Ohio; the National Hispano/Latino Community Prevention Network, based near Albuquerque, New Mexico; National Asian Pacific American Families Against Substance Abuse, in Los Angeles, California; and the National Association for Native American Children of Alcoholics in Seattle, Washington. These groups joined with National Families in Action, PRIDE, and the National Federation of Parents for Drug-Free Youth to form The Parent Collaboration to inspire today's parents to form volunteer parent groups to prevent drug use among their children. An additional group, the Drug Free America Foundation based in St. Petersburg, Florida, works with the collaboration. Unfortunately, economic pressures that drive contemporary parents to work and to devote an average of 50 to 60 hours to their workweeks, mean there is simply no time for parents to volunteer a sustained drug-prevention effort, as the previous generation of parents were able to do. Furthermore, Congress eliminated high-risk youth grants from the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, and funds were simply not available to enable parents to work full-time, or even part-time, at preventing drug abuse in their families and communities.
As funding to support minority parent- and family-based drug-prevention groups disappeared, a well-funded effort to legalize drugs re-emerged in the 1990s. This effort has contributed to re-establishing conditions that are similar to those that appeared to drive drug use up among young people in the 1970s. Legalization proponents reject abstinence-based drug-education as "unrealistic," and advocate instead for educational materials that teach children how to use drugs "safely." Proponents also are leading efforts to sponsor state ballot initiatives that attack or weaken laws forbidding drug use, drug dealing, and drug trafficking and, at the same time, are launching lobbying efforts to legalize drugs. With the growing popularity of the Internet, the sale of drug paraphernalia, and even of illicit drugs, along with an amazing array of misinformation about drug effects, dominates online drug sites. As these conditions intensify, so does drug use and drug abuse. In the state that has passed the most measures to soften or eliminate its drug laws, Oregon, more citizens now abuse illicit drugs than alcohol, according to a survey commissioned by the Health Division of the Oregon Department of Human Services. Of even more concern nationwide, the 13-year-long, two-thirds decline in regular drug use among adolescents (and the 500 percent drop in daily marijuana userom 11 to 2 percent among high school seniors) ended in 1992, and drug use doubled among teens throughout the decade. While some government surveys show adolescent drug use is now leveling off, others show drug use continues to rise among teens and young adults.
As drug use rises once again among America's children, America's parents are unavailable to work for drug prevention. Most must work to earn money to provide for their families. They cannot afford to do the long sustained work of drug prevention without pay. No funding mechanisms exist to give parents the opportunity to "switch jobs" and work full time, or even part time, to prevent children from entering a culture whose lure intensifies each year. Until this changes, the outlook for reducing drug use among the nation's children, adolescents, and young adults remains bleak.
MANNAT, M. (1980). Parents, peers, and pot. Rockville, MD: National Institute on Drug Abuse.
O'DONNELL, O. (1999). Parents helping parents: A guide for action. Rockville, MD: Center for Substance Abuse Prevention.
RESNICK, M. D., ET AL. (1997). Protecting adolescents from harm: Findings from the National Longitudinal Study on Adolescent Health. Journal of the American Medical Association, 278, 823-832.
RUSCHE, S. (1995). Voluntary Organizations. In R. H. Coombs & D. Ziedonis (Eds.), Handbook on drug abuse prevention: A comprehensive strategy to prevent the abuse of alcohol and other drugs (pp.181-195). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
RUSCHE, S. (1997). A guide to the drug legalization movement. Atlanta, GA: National Families in Action.
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