Ken Streeter knows all about the pain and the loss of drug abuse.
Streeter, 40, was involved in drugs for 31 years before he checked into the Cenikor Foundation's residential drug treatment center in Fort Worth, Texas, last year."I was born and raised in Southern California. Everybody around me, including my family, was involved in drugs. It seemed natural," Streeter says. "I've lost a niece, a nephew and three brothers.
"It wasn't until it got to that point that I recognized the reality. I have kids of my own, and I know how I want them to grow up. When parents are involved and drug use is condoned, the children don't stand a chance."
Streeter knew he needed treatment that was tough, so he went to Cenikor. In its strict residential program, participants sign a contract to stay 2 1/2 to 3 years.
The private agency is the fourth-largest substance abuse treatment organization in the country, which has aided more than 3,000 addicts since it was formed in 1968. It operates centers in Denver, Houston and Fort Worth.
Cenikor's residents also work within the program in ways that help finance the facility _ through service-to-industry businesses and manufacture and sales of athletic equipment.
Its residents also work in a "Knock Out Drugs" program designed to educate youngsters about drugs, peer pressure and self-image. Last year, it held programs for 93,000 Texas youngsters from kindergarten through high school. Seventeen separate programs are geared to different age groups and susceptibilities.
"Everyone we send out to the schools is in treatment. It shows the students that you can't keep using drugs without consequences," says Cenikor prevention manager Elizabeth M. Whitford.
"We try to clear up any myths and misconceptions about drugs. We never tell kids `don't take drugs.' Instead, we let them know what will happen if they do," Whitford said. "Sometimes, they go off to school and the only information they have is mom and dad telling them `don't take drugs' _ when all their friends are urging the opposite."
Streeter says it is a message that not all anti-drug programs can get across.
"Sometimes, when local police departments go into schools, in squeaky leather and full uniform, the children are intimidated and put up a wall toward officials. Children are more in tune to the people who are in rehabilitation, who have turned their lives around."
It is difficult to overcome the natural adolescent feeling of immortality with messages about dangers of drugs, Streeter said.
"Most people will rationalize `Well, the chances of it happening to me are 1 in 10 million.' They don't realize there are thousands of Len Biases and John Belushis a year," Streeter said. "Only a handful a year get publicized. Children aren't aware of that."
Dr. Judith L. Fischer, a family studies expert at Texas Tech, says it is important to remember that adolescents are very self-conscious about what their friends think _ and what kids who they don't even know may think.
The attitude of indestructability is widespread, and sometimes cavalier. In many cities, cocaine and crack are given nicknames by local dealers. In the Washington, D.C., neighborhood where University of Maryland basketball star bought his fatal dose of cocaine, the drug is now called "Len Bias."
Last spring, Bradford College President Arthur Levine spent a week living in an inner city public housing project in Lawrence, Mass., to find out how the educational establishment could better reach these youngsters.
He found that drugs are a strong part of the social fabric that is not easily overcome.
"We're providing a very strong lesson for to these kids. Maybe Nancy Reagan or Jesse Jackson came to their school once with a message of `Just Say No' or `I Am Somebody.' But the guy who is there every day, with the most money and the fanciest car, is the drug dealer.
"More and more neighborhoods today are just rock-bottom poor. The young have no models and no networks to jobs, except the drug dealer. That's a profound thing to try to overturn," Levine said. "Drugs are for poor people. You've just got to change their lives to get them away from it.
"I saw an elementary school kid who brought drug `works' to school for show and tell, because that's what he found at home."
Another boy, 7, was home alone when Levine interviewed him. The boy said his father was a crack dealer. Minutes later, somebody knocked on the door asking for drugs. "The kid knew where the stash was and went to get it. When the kid was offered a dollar, he demanded $5.
"I didn't find one kid who said drugs were good," Levine said. "But something will happen in the next few years that will change their minds, as it has every other generation.
The U.S. Department of Education has kept tabs on effective drug eradication programs in schools but has not formulated a specific strategy for use across the nation. One reason is a law forbidding the agency from setting curricula.
In its publication "What Works: Schools Without Drugs," the department stresses that parents, schools, students and communities all must be involved.