Though the war against drugs may seem a hopeless battle to many, Lee Dogoloff believes it's a fight that can be won and cites a decline in cocaine and alcohol abuse among teenagers to back his claim.
As the executive director for the American Council for Drug Education, Dogoloff says he's seen the rate of daily alcohol use among high school seniors on a constant decline since its peak in 1979. The same is true for marijuana use, which also peaked that year when 11 percent of students reported using the drug on a daily basis. The number fell to 3.3 percent by 1987.Even cocaine usage has declined, according to Dogoloff, but not as rapidly as the other drugs. "Last year was the first significant decline in daily cocaine use among high school seniors - a 6 percent decline."
The reason for the declines? "I think there's a recognition by school administrators that they're not going it alone in trying to fight the problem. Ten years ago, there was a lot of denial on the part of schools that a problem even existed. There's also much more willingness by schools to open their doors and let parents in - to act as a catalyst for the community.
"And I think the country as a whole is much more receptive to the message that it's OK to say no - even in terms of adult behavior with alcohol consumption."
In Salt Lake City to meet with school representatives from 10 southwestern states, Dogoloff said that while children and teens are at risk for drug abuse, it's their parents that present the biggest challenge.
"The major problem is, the improvement is occurring with the children, but not with the 20- to 40-year-old age group - those who started using in the late '60s and '70s are now in the workplace, and they're carrying those behaviors with them."
Dogoloff is directing a three-day conference at the Salt Palace on drug-free schools and communities, where participants are sharing ideas about prevention and education programs and developing a network of information.
He said drug abuse among children and teens occurs at about the same rate as it does in the over-40 age group. "The problem bulge is those in the middle."
From 1977 to 1980, Dogoloff served as President Carter's principal adviser on drugs, providing central policy direction and coordination for all federal health, law enforcement and international drug programs. And while he isn't unrealistic about thinking drug abuse can be totally eradicated, he said it's vital that efforts continue in that direction.
"There's no 100 percent cure for anything. But we don't say with smallpox that we're willing to tolerate a little of it. The goal is to be rid of it, with the understanding that it will always be there to some degree."