Between the Lines

Between the Lines By David Lias The timing of it all reeks with irony.

Approximately 10 days before New Year's Eve, an event celebrated too often by too many with too much libation of one sort or another, General Electric Company, the owner of NBC, announced that the home of the peacock will become the first broadcast television network to accept hard-liquor commercials in more than 50 years, striking a deal with Britain's Diageo PLC, the world's largest liquor company, with brands including Smirnoff, Tanqueray and Johnnie Walker.

The American Medical Association, whose member physicians and researchers have sliced into their fair share of diseased livers over the years, can't find any reason to pop a cork in celebration.

"The decision by NBC to accept advertising for liquor is shockingly irresponsible and should be reversed immediately," AMA chairman elect Dr. J. Edward Hill said.

Hill, 63, said the AMA's concern is that the ads will increase the number of alcohol-related deaths among teenagers � a trend on the rise.

"It's the at-risk children, ages 10 to 15 years old who watch television at night, and those are the children that we would like to see protected from the influence of this advertising because we know all too well what advertising did to cigarette consumption of young people before it was banned about 30 years ago," said Hill, a family practitioner from Tupelo, MS.

Now that you've heard about NBC's intentions, the work of the Clay County Sheriff's Department and the Vermillion School District to re-introduce DARE to fifth-graders at Jolley Elementary School suddenly seems to take on added importance.

DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) is a collaborative effort by certified law enforcement officers, educators, students, parents and the community to offer an educational program in the classroom to prevent or reduce drug abuse and violence among children and youth. The emphasis of DARE is to help students recognize and resist the many direct and subtle pressures that influence them to experiment with alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, inhalants, or other drugs or to engage in violence.

DARE is successful, in part, because it focuses on the development of social competence, communication skills, self-esteem, empathy, decision making, conflict resolution, sense of purpose and independence, and positive alternative activities to drug abuse and other destructive behaviors.

DARE has been studied extensively. What do the studies say? They disagree. Some say DARE makes a significant difference, others say there is no significant difference. DARE proponents say everyone loves the program. DARE opponents say you should not spend tax money on a program which feels good but does not produce measurable results.

If the studies contradict each other, how do you know what is right? How do you prove a crime was prevented? How do you prove DARE classes kept youth from using drugs?

The answers to tough questions are not always in the data. There are other ways to look at the DARE program and evaluate its effectiveness.

Some DARE critics wag a finger at any instance of a DARE graduate who later uses drugs as a shining example of the program's failure.

We aren't so naive to believe that every DARE participant will miraculously find themselves immunized from potential drug or alcohol abuse.

Some young people may use drugs and others won't, regardless of DARE or other prevention programs. But the decisions most young people will make about drugs will depend on many variables. Prevention programs such as DARE, we believe, try to influence those decisions.

Another way to think about the DARE studies is to question whether they make sense. We require young people to take driver training before we will give them a drivers license. Do we expect they will never get a ticket? That they will never be in an accident? Of course we don't, and we don't eliminate driver training because some kids get tickets or get into wrecks. We still believe the training is good for them.

Clay County Deputy Sheriff Paul Pederson presented the DARE program to over 100 local fifth graders in recent weeks.

"Someone asked me about this, and I realized that if I can reach just one kid, it will be all worthwhile," he said.

With NBC's recent announcement, it appears bringing the DARE program back to life here in Vermillion was, indeed, a worthwhile idea.

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