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The President's
National Drug Control Strategy
February 2005

Stopping Use Before It Starts: Education and Community Action

Parents: The Main Ingredient

The Strategy discusses a variety of prevention programs, including school- and community-based programs, student drug testing programs, and public service advertisements. These diverse approaches help parents keep kids away from drugs and alcohol. Yet none of these programs is enough to make a decisive difference without significant parental involvement.

Student drug testing programs, for instance, reinforce parental admonitions against drug use but also provide parents with needed information, even when the information is the good news of a negative test result. A campaign of public service advertisements sponsored by a public-private partnership confronts parental misconceptions head-on by equipping parents with proven techniques for monitoring teen behavior. Community-level prevention strategies include programs that support parents’ wishes when parents cannot be there to watch, multiplying the number of watchful eyes in the community to deter young people from using illegal drugs or alcohol.

But all roads lead back to parents—and for good reason. Available research is unambiguous about the importance of having parents discuss the dangers of illegal drugs and underage drinking with their children. Parents and other caregivers need to do more than simply talk about drugs and alcohol. They also need to act—by monitoring the behavior of teen children, knowing where their teenagers are at all times, particularly after school, and knowing whom they are with and what they are doing. Such techniques have proved remarkably effective in keeping teenagers away from drugs.


Preventing drug use is important for many reasons—some obvious and some not so obvious—including recent scientific findings on the adolescent brain. Although the brain grows rapidly in early childhood, major changes are still taking place in the brain during adolescence. This is a time, according to recent research, when “pruning” of cells takes place. Certain cells live on and others die during this crucial time in brain development. Using substances that alter the brain while it is developing can have devastating long-term consequences.

In fact, the greatest single barrier to increased parental monitoring seems to be self-inflicted—the view of some parents, particularly baby boomers, that monitoring their child is nagging or, worse, authoritarian behavior that could drive a wedge between them and their child. Such parents may be more comfortable reaching out to their child as a friend rather than in the more customary role of guardian, monitor, and guide. They may struggle to reconcile their own past drug use, wondering whether it is hypocritical to lay down an unambiguous line that drug use is wrong and will not be tolerated. Worse still, kids report that parents are not typically as vigilant as their parents believe themselves to be.

The good news is that parental monitoring has been shown to be remarkably effective in reducing a range of risky behaviors among young people. Studies indicate that kids who are monitored are one-fourth as likely to use illegal drugs and one-half as likely to smoke cigarettes as kids who are not monitored. Put another way, the research confirms what many parents of teenagers tend to doubt: kids really do listen to their parents, and they do respond to parental expectations. For example, surveys show that two-thirds of youth ages 13 to 17 say losing their parents’ respect is one of the main reasons they do not smoke marijuana or use other drugs.

The National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign, an integrated effort that combines advertising with public communications outreach, has drawn on these insights, in the process developing a series of advertisements that coach parents in monitoring teen behavior and promote early intervention against signs of early drug use. The President’s fiscal year 2006 budget proposes $120 million for ONDCP’s media campaign.

Fiscal Year 2006 Budget Highlights

  • Education—Student Drug Testing: +$15.4 million. The President’s fiscal year 2006 budget proposes $25.4 million for student drug testing programs. This initiative provides competitive grants to support schools in the design and implementation of programs to randomly screen selected students and to intervene with assessment, referral, and intervention for students whose test results indicate they have used illicit drugs. Funding of $2 million made available during the first two years of this initiative was used by 79 middle and high school administrators for drug testing programs. These efforts sent a message that local community leaders care enough to help those students showing warning signs of drug abuse and that they want to provide a drug-free learning environment to all students. With increased funding in fiscal year 2006, more schools will have access to this powerful tool.

  • Research-Based Grant Assistance to Local Educational Agencies: +$87.5 million. This enhancement will support the implementation of drug prevention or school safety programs, policies, and strategies that research has demonstrated to be effective in reducing youth drug use or violence and for implementation and scientifically based evaluation of additional approaches that show promise of effectiveness. Under this proposed new activity, grantees would be required either to carry out one or more programs, practices, or interventions that rigorous evaluation has demonstrated to be effective or to carry out a rigorous evaluation of a promising program, practice, or intervention to test its effectiveness and thereby increase the knowledge base on what works in the field. In making awards, the Department of Education would ensure the equitable distribution of grants among urban, suburban, and rural local education agencies.


Founded in 1861, St. Patrick High School is Chicago’s oldest Catholic high school for boys. Five years ago, St. Patrick formed a task force of parents, community leaders, administrators, and faculty to explore the idea of a student drug testing program. The upshot was a recommendation to drug test all students randomly at least once each year.

“We have had amazing results from hair testing,” says principal Joseph G. Schmidt. “We have 1,022 guys at St. Patrick. We have tested all of them, and only nine have tested positive. That’s one percent.”

Each family with a child at St. Patrick pays $60 per year to administer the test, which can identify marijuana, cocaine, opiates, methamphetamine, phencyclidine (PCP), and MDMA (Ecstasy). A positive test triggers a notification of the student’s family, at which point the student is typically referred to counseling. Consequences occur only if there is a second positive test anytime within a student’s four-year high school career.

“First, they have a confidential meeting with me,” says Rudy Presslak, dean of students. “And if it was a one-time thing and they feel they can stop on their own, that’s the end of it. We encourage them to meet with the counselors here at the school, however, and if the parents feel that it’s a bigger problem, they can see an outside counselor.”

“We pull 10 to 15 kids [at a time] for hair testing,” adds principal Schmidt. “It takes maybe five minutes per kid, mostly for paperwork. We snip an inch and a half of hair, which tells us if they have used drugs in the past 90 days. The parents are very supportive. And they appreciate getting the letter saying, ‘Your kid tested negative.’”

The students seem to appreciate the program as well.

“For the kids who would be tempted to use, it’s an incentive not to,” Schmidt says. “And for the kids who wouldn’t use anyway, it’s an easy way to say no when someone pressures them.”

“The other day I heard a couple of our kids talking to a kid from another school,” adds dean Presslak. “They were telling him, ‘We don’t have drugs here at St. Patrick.’”

Student Drug Testing: Giving Kids an “Out”

Nearly three years have passed since the U.S. Supreme Court broadened the authority of public schools to drug test students, making this powerful tool available to any school battling a drug problem. Since that historic ruling, a number of schools across the country have seized this opportunity to implement drug testing programs of their own.


While shopping at a grocery store near her home in central Florida, Audrey Kelley-Fritz found all the proof she needed that her county’s student drug testing program was working.

“I had a kid taking my groceries out to the car at the Publix,” says Kelley-Fritz, who runs a student drug testing program for Polk County high school students.

“He said he didn’t have anything to worry about with the school’s new drug testing policy, but he was after two of his friends, saying, ‘I keep telling them they have to give it up before school starts, because they [school officials] are going to find out.’”

“Now that is what I like to hear,” says Kelley-Fritz. “Not only are we making it easier for the one kid to say no in a party situation—this kid is exerting positive peer pressure on his teammates.”

Polk County’s program was begun after school officials decided to think creatively about bringing down the school district’s drug use numbers, which are measured every other year by a state survey. “Our drug use numbers were higher than for the rest of the state,” says Kelley-Fritz. “We were doing all sorts of things for prevention, but it just didn’t seem like it was enough.”

A community forum and federal demonstration grant later, the program was on its way. “Virtually none of the parents even raised a question about it,” says Kelley-Fritz. “Most of the questions centered around why we were not testing for steroids, since we were testing athletes. Well, this year we are adding steroids.”

Polk County had ample reason to believe that a student drug testing program would help drive down drug use. One of the county’s high schools had started a testing program for student athletes in 1997 and saw marijuana use drop by 30 percent virtually overnight. The program was cancelled after four years because of a budget crunch, and drug use quickly returned to pre-testing levels.

Roughly 40 percent of student athletes in the county’s 14 public high schools and a Catholic high school that piggybacked onto the program are tested randomly in a given year.

“They sometimes feel that as athletes they are being singled out,” says Kelley-Fritz.

“We tell them, ‘You are the leaders of the campus. You have a responsibility.’”

If a student tests positive, the specimen is sent to another lab for confirmation. If the results are still positive, the specimen goes to the school board’s medical review officer, who calls the parents and tries to account for any possible medical reason for the result. Barring that, the student is entered into a ten-day program of education and assessment, after which he can return to whatever sports activity he had been involved in before the drug test.

“From then on, they are tested at least once every other month, typically for a year,” says Kelley-Fritz. “If they blow another test, they are removed from the team for the remainder of that season plus one calendar year.”

Student drug testing programs are an excellent means of protecting kids from behavior that destroys bodies and minds, impedes academic performance, and creates barriers to success and happiness. Drug testing is powerful, safe, and effective, and it is available to any school, public or private, that understands the devastation of drug use and is determined to confront it. Many schools urgently need effective ways to reinforce their anti-drug efforts. Drug testing can help them.

Schools considering adding a testing program to their prevention efforts will find reassurance in knowing that drug testing can be done effectively and compassionately. The purpose of testing, after all, is not to punish students who use drugs but to prevent use in the first place. Testing helps to ensure that users get the help they need through a student assistance program, to stop placing themselves and their friends at risk. Random drug testing is not a substitute for all our other efforts to reduce drug use by young people, but it does make those efforts work better.

Indeed, student drug testing is that rare tool that makes all other prevention efforts more effective.

By giving students who do not want to use drugs an “out,” testing reduces the impact of peer pressure. By giving students who are tempted by drugs a concrete reason not to use them, testing amplifies the force of prevention messages. And by identifying students who are using illegal drugs, testing supports parental monitoring and enables treatment specialists to direct early intervention techniques where they are needed.

As one high school principal put it, “For the kids who would be tempted to use, it’s an incentive not to. And for the kids who wouldn’t use anyway, it’s an easy way to say no when someone pressures them.”

The Strategy profiles two schools that have initiated testing programs, a public system in central Florida, and a Catholic boy’s school in Chicago. One employs traditional urine screening; the other hair testing. These schools have experienced positive reactions from parents and students. Both find that testing has contributed to remarkably low levels of drug use. Both also conclude that their use of testing, far from being a source of controversy, has made their schools more attractive to parents.

The President’s fiscal year 2006 budget proposes $25.4 million for student drug testing programs, supporting schools in the design and implementation of programs to screen selected students randomly and to intervene with assessment, referral, and intervention for students whose test results indicate they have used illicit drugs. Funding of $2 million made available during the first two years of this initiative was used by 79 middle and high school administrators for drug testing programs. With increased funding in fiscal year 2006, more schools will have access to this powerful tool (see box).


Every year around prom time, teen drunk-driving deaths begin appearing in the news with greater frequency. Nine years ago, in Kansas City, Kansas, a group of parents decided that they had had enough of teenage drinking and drug use and set out to do something about it.

What came to be known as the Tri-County Northland Coalition pulled together existing community prevention efforts that were being run out of 15 area school districts. Vicky L. Ward helps run the coalition: “We found that local business groups and others who wanted to help might not have the ability to go to 15 monthly meetings. But they could come to one meeting.”

The group used everything from billboards to full-page newspaper ads to get out the message that parents could be held legally liable for allowing keg parties. “People tend to think about the need to affect kids’ norms,” says Ward. “But the real problem is making sure that the parents know what the norms are. Kids by and large will follow the norms set by the adults.”

Adults sometimes have to be reminded of the liability that can follow from being involved with a keg party or so-called open house party. Says Platte County prosecuting attorney Eric G. Zahnd, “It is certainly not uncommon for an adult to be sued when a teen leaves a party after drinking and is injured or injures somebody else.”

The coalition followed up through an initiative with local merchants to tag every keg rented in the tri-county area. Keg tracking, as it is called, links rented kegs back to the person who actually paid for them. “There’s actually a number on the keg that tracks back to a number I have to sign for with my driver’s license,” says Ward. “If the police come upon a keg party, they can take that keg back to the place where it was rented and then find out who rented it.”

So far, the law’s effect has been principally deterrent. And that’s just fine with prosecutor Zahnd: “Even if I never have to enforce that law, the deterrent effect of having it out there is real.”

The coalition works with anyone who might inadvertently facilitate teen drinking or drug use, including limousine rental firms. Parents who rent a limousine have to sign a form affirming that minor occupants do not have the right to do anything illegal and that services will be terminated on the spot if they do break the law. “A couple years back, we had a limo driver who noticed the kids drinking or using illegal drugs,” says Zahnd. “He stopped the car and told them, ‘I’m not going to take you any further. You need to call your parents.’”

Hotel and motel managers are given a schedule of local proms and asked to warn customers not to rent rooms for underage parties. “Now, a month before prom season, we have motels calling us asking us for the list,” Ward says.

Not surprisingly, the Northland Coalition has seen significant reductions in substance abuse among the youth in their tri-county area. Use of cigarettes, alcohol, and marijuana declined among all grades surveyed between 2000 and 2004—another example of what committed parents can do.

Catalyzing Civic Action through Community Coalitions

Americans of all ages serve others in countless ways, from mentoring a child to teaching someone to read. Americans have also increasingly come together to form community anti-drug coalitions to present a united community front in the fight against drug use. Community coalitions catalyze civic action and serve to connect individuals from such disparate parts of the community as health care, law enforcement, business, drug treatment, and education.

There are now more than 5,000 community coalitions nationwide, and no two are exactly alike. One such coalition, based in Kansas City, Kansas (see box), organized parents and retailers with the goal of making a special effort to keep kids away from drugs and alcohol during prom time. Another coalition, based in Cleveland (see box), uses the community’s time and energy to run drug dealers off street corners.


Reverend Richard J. McCain is pastor of the Southeast Cleveland Church of Christ, an evangelical church in southeast Cleveland. But lately, it is his other role, as project director of a community anti-drug coalition, that is keeping him busy.

“The biggest concern our residents have is reducing street corner drug dealing,” says McCain. “There’s a major problem with crack cocaine in southeast Cleveland. Marijuana is a problem particularly among young people and has become almost more of a problem than alcohol.”

The city’s suburbanites are not helping either.

“People find it convenient to pull off the highway, buy some drugs [in southeast Cleveland], and then get back on the road. Residents just felt unsafe with all the corner dealing. People were not going to the corner store because they had to walk past the drug dealers.

“So we went to the corner.”

McCain and his colleagues from the Substance Abuse Initiative of Greater Cleveland use a deceptively simple method for taking back neighborhoods from street corner drug dealers—showing up.

“We call them street corner anti-drug vigils,” says McCain. “We encourage the residents to take the attitude that the street corner is just as much theirs as the dealers’. We come out with hotdogs and hamburgers and a grill. We have a guy who likes to bring a boom box.

“We always work closely with the police. They assign one or two cars just to give an increased sense of safety to the residents and to show that the residents and the police are working together.”

The normal buyers will come by— residents recognize the cars—but they won’t stop because the dealers are not out.

One such corner was 124th and Bartlett, a busy spot for dealers. Residents were complaining that the dealers were coming up to cars and offering them drugs.

“The police came in and softened it up for us first,” McCain says. “They assigned increased patrols, stepped up monitoring of traffic signs and lights, and made sure there were no parking violations. We got the businesses involved, and they donated some soft drinks and hotdogs. Then we brought in the residents.”

The dealers and the buyers don’t know when McCain’s crew is going to be there, but timing is important. “The first of the month, paydays, weekends are usually busy,” McCain says. “Those are times when we encourage folks to go out to disrupt the dealers.”

It typically takes six weeks to four months to see results, so before designating a “drug-free zone” (there are now ten, with three more in the works), the coalition looks for a neighborhood group that has staying power.

“One area was really tough; we had the residents out there on and off for a year,” McCain says. “But these guys are entrepreneurs. They are going to look for someplace where they do not face the same obstacles.”

McCain has little patience for people who say he is just moving the problem around. “We get people who say, ‘You are not stopping them, you are just moving them.’ We have people say, ‘You drove them off 144th and Bartlett, but now they are at 133rd and Milverton.’ Well, we drove them out of 133rd and Milverton too.

“We had a guy dealing on 176th and Harvard. We did not get him arrested but we moved him off that corner. Then he came to 144th and Bartlett—same thing. Finally, he moved to 139th and Kinsman. We were able to work with the police and get him arrested. It took us a while, but we got him. And we encouraged the residents to come to court when he comes up for trial and let the judge know that this man has been a blight in our area and not to give him a lenient sentence.

“Fear is probably one of the biggest problems we face. The residents get comments like, ‘Who’s going to protect you when the police leave?’ As a minister, I tell people to remember that we have somebody higher looking over us who is looking out for our children and our neighborhoods. We encourage folks to keep it light, not confront anybody. So far we have not had any problems.”

McCain’s contacts with local businesses have also led to a focus on code violations by neighborhood liquor stores. “Most of our neighborhood stores are very helpful, but some of them are selling alcohol and cigarettes to minors,” McCain says. “We work with the police to do compliance checks on those businesses.

“We had one bar that not only was selling to minors but they were selling crack out the back door. We threatened to report them. They laughed at us and said, ‘You are not.’ We went to the ABC [alcoholic beverage control] board and got them shut down. We are just trying to get the city to step up and enforce the law.”

McCain has worked with Catholic and Muslim groups, as well as community-based social service agencies, but makes no bones about what motivates him. “I believe the church needs to be focused on the community,” he says.

The Drug Free Communities support program funds these and other community groups that seek to form and sustain effective coalitions to fight the use of illegal drugs. To further the efforts of these important coalitions, the Administration proposes $80 million during fiscal year 2006.

Pushing Back Against Steroids

When athletes use steroids and performance-enhancing drugs, they risk their health and send a terrible message to other young people, who otherwise stand to learn so much from sports, including the meaning of teamwork and the relationship between achievement and hard work.

The use of steroids and performance-enhancing drugs in sports is a growing problem that calls for action. Last year, the President signed a law adding 18 steroid precursors, including androstenedione, or “andro,” to the list of banned anabolic steroids. The new law also increases penalties for offenses involving steroids.

Keeping professional athletes away from banned steroids and performance-enhancing drugs will take a concerted effort by team owners, union representatives, coaches, and players. These groups need to come together to implement credible drug policies and set a healthier and more positive example for America’s young people.

Internationally, thanks to the World Anti-Doping Code, things are better today than at any other time in recent memory. The code, which has been agreed to by the International Olympic Committee, National Olympic Committees, and the international sporting federations, brings uniformity to the list of substances from which athletes must abstain and regiments the punishments and procedures to be implemented in the case of a code violation.

In addition to helping develop the code, the United States is a leading supporter of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), which monitors code compliance among athletes, sports federations, and nations and helps ensure a level playing field for the athletes of every nation—including ours—that competes internationally. The United States also supports the mission of the United States Anti-Doping Agency in its education and research programs and testing of elite amateurs.

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Last Updated: February 23, 2005

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