Primary Children's Medical Center has a prescription for children experimenting with or abusing drugs.
It's hugs."Hugs not Drugs," a program designed to build self-confidence and make kids believe in themselves, is available through the children's hospital to school, civic, neighborhood and church groups throughout the Mountain West.
Its target audience is elementary students - children often ignored by other drug education and prevention programs - but children who are also at risk.
At this early age, drug experimentation is not uncommon, program designers warn.
"I find on the third-grade level students are not quite as aware of what is going on. They are kind of wide-eyed and listen a lot," said Myra Platt, manager of the medical center's community education program. Platt, in coordination with public relations director Sandra Wilkins, designed the program and makes the presentations.
"On the fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade levels, they are pretty street-wise," Platt said. "They talk about drug paraphernalia - information they have picked up on television, in the neighborhood or from their parents.
"They have lots of questions and misconceptions that we clear up."
During Platt's 45-minute presentation, students are taught the dangers of drugs.
"Be prepared," they are warned. "Know the facts: Drugs can destroy your mind and body, make you physically ill, change your personality, get you into debt and trouble with law, school, family."
Through a 14-minute filmstrip, entitled "Stand Up for Yourself," students learn about peer pressure and confidence-building ways of getting out of difficult situations.
"We think of peer pressure as a negative influence, but it can also be positive," Platt said. "If there are enough kids saying `no,' then they are creating positive peer pressure. It gives a support system to the kids who really want to say `no' and not participate in drugs."
After the film, Platt and participants discuss the ways to say `no' - ways like a friendly `no, thank-you,' the broken-record technique, reversing the pressure, or the chicken counter-attack technique, avoiding the situation, making up an excuse and leaving the situation.
But the majority of program emphasis is on building self-esteem.
"We talk about getting natural highs - the things children can do, other than use drugs, to get over the stress of everyday life," Platt said. "Kids have it. Kids have as much stress today in our society as do adults."
The program also suggests some tools for parents: Learn about drugs and alcohol, recognize warning signs, set firm limits, build your child's self-esteem, and love - regardless of actions. Tell your children they're important and belong.
"There are parents who don't believe (alcohol or drugs) is a problem until it hits their home," Platt said. "This is preventive education. It gives parents some tools and suggestions on how to build confidence in their children and strengthen their family."
Platt's message to parents is that children need positive role models.
"Create a healthy tradition," she advises. "Making responsible choices about nutrition, exercise, stress management and use of drugs and alcohol will influence your children.
"Spend time with each child and as a family. Play and have fun."
Platt has already presented "Hugs Not Drugs" to 30 groups and more than 3,600 children and parents. Program brochures, which don't soft-soap the serious problem, have been sent to an additional 90 groups.
Persons wishing to schedule the program can call Platt at Primary Children's Medical Center, 521-1679.