Gov. Norm Bangerter told a group of Utah County teenagers Tuesday to rely on each other for support to avoid drug use.
"Count on each other. Don't preach to each other. Be there for each other," he said during a meeting of Project Teamwork in Brigham Young University's Conference Center. "That's what Project Teamwork is all about: It's to help you understand that you have a lot of friends."A group of about 140 junior high students from schools throughout the county met during the daylong event to learn how to combat the temptation to use drugs themselves and to plan ways to eliminate drug use in their schools.
Tom Russell, the event's coordinator, said Utah County teenagers spend three-quarters of a million dollars every year on drugs.
"We do have a problem in Utah County, and we think you're the key people to help us fight it," Russell told the students.
Most young people start using drugs while they are in junior high school, Russell said. Anti-drug efforts focus too much on adults, ignoring the prevention potential among teens.
"The focus of this program is to get people to say we need to come together as a group to solve this problem. In fact, the real solution to drugs is community," he said.
One way Project Teamwork tries to promote a sense of community among students is by inviting a representative group from area schools to come together and learn about preventing drug use. During the session Tuesday, the teens participated in simulated exercises that demonstrated ways kids can refuse drugs when someone wants them to accept.
"We have to show them instead of tell them," Russell said.
Bangerter has a special interest in the success of the program, because Project Teamwork was initiated by his administration.
"I'm pleased with your attendance here today and the whole idea of Project teamwork," he told the students. "We were all kids once, and we all faced challenges in our lives. The concern of Project Teamwork is to help teach us how to help each other.
"You're here with an objective in mind. I hope that you're not going to be involved in drugs. Sometimes the challenge is how to say no and still have fun. You can help us make Utah schools drug free," Bangerter said.
"You want to have every opportunity for a good education, and you can't have a good education if your mind is polluted with drugs and alcohol. The jobs are going to go to the people who stay straight."
Russell said there are several reasons teenagers get involved in drug use, including low self-esteem, stress, or physical or personal pain, because it's fun and because it's the popular thing to do.