“Prevention is the only lasting cure”
rugs are reaching younger and younger ages. In the United States, some children are turning to drugs at 9 and 10 years old, and use of hard
drugs like cocaine
by teenagers has increased.
Similar problems exist in other parts of the world, particularly in Europe. A recent study, for example, found that 40 percent of the United Kingdom’s youth have tried one drug or another before reaching the age of 16. Figures in some other countries follow the same trend.
In response to this international crisis, the Church of Scientology, which has been engaged in drug prevention and education work for decades, launched a coordinated, international drug education campaign in 2001.
The anti-drug initiative was launched under the banner of “Say No to Drugs/Say Yes to Life,” a program begun by Scientologists in Switzerland more than a decade ago.
At the heart of the campaign are simple, factual booklets on drugs. Booklets on marijuana, heroin, ecstasy and a drug education guide booklet for parents and teachers have since been translated into 12 languages and are currently being distributed in 17 countries. Over one million of the booklets have been distributed to date.
Clear and simple message
The booklets, which simply and graphically describe various drugs and what they do, are in continual demand from parents, teachers, police officers, youth organizations, students and others. They are distributed worldwide by volunteers through public information stands, shops and stores, and at concerts and clubs.
Letters of appreciation and testimonials about the helpfulness of the information are received every week by different Say No to Drugs associations. Parents confirm the positive impact of the booklets on their children; teenagers acknowledge they no longer let themselves be lured by drugs. Many business owners request stocks of the booklets, which they include in customers’ bags, and display campaign posters in their windows.
Campaign volunteers and friends also organize artistic performances, drug lectures, symposiums and other activities under the banner of Say No to Drugs/Say Yes to Life.
The campaign, which has also been extended to public service messages on hundreds of billboards and on public transportation, sends a clear message: drugs destroy life, whether that be on an individual basis or for an entire culture.
To get the message and information out internationally, the Church is expanding the campaign to embrace the United States, Mexico and South American countries, Canada, Australia and South Africa.
The growing campaign also includes a variety of activities designed to demonstrate to youth that drug-free living is fun and rewarding.
“Children are gifted with a very positive and creative view of the world. They can really envision drug-free cities,” said Luis Gonzalez, international coordinator for drug education and prevention at the Church of Scientology International in Los Angeles. “When they get the idea that they can do something to make that happen, they see the world and their role in it in a different light.
“Many kids turn to drugs because they are bored, fed up, or alienated from living,” he said. “They don’t find their lives uplifting or rewarding enough, and they don’t comprehend the consequences of their actions on their own future and on others.”
Under the heading of various names, from Drug-Free Marshals in the United States (see also: “Keeping Youth Off Drugs”) to Drug-Free Kids Ambassadors in Australia, the programs have similar elements. They include activities for youth that enable them to participate in their communities, and reward drug-free living.
Children and teenagers also get to face the realities of drug use in their environment, and they take an active part in turning that around. Youth participating in the campaign in Canada and England under adult supervision have conducted extensive clean-ups in their cities, including in areas which have been degraded by drug use. In the United States, children have taken part in essay and poster contests, in clean-ups and in projects to gain the commitment of adults to support drug-free living.
Common sense choices
Over the past decade, the trend in drug education has drifted away from prevention, and onto “harm reduction” and “safety” issues — such as advising how to use drugs so as to reduce AIDS, hepatitis and deaths. These tactics are flanked with defeatist messages increasingly found in media from drug policy “reformers” that not only is the drug war “lost” but that it can never be won.
“We must deal with health and other consequences of drugs, but defeatism comes from a desire to justify failures,” said Gonzalez.
While efforts must continue to curb abuse, addiction and its effects on society, Gonzalez said that at least the same effort must go into prevention.
“Without meaningful education about drugs on a massive scale, we won’t make a dent in the problem of drug abuse no matter what policy or laws we try,” he said. “We need an international effort to educate youth and adults on the truth about drugs and what they do. Then they’ll avoid drugs out of common sense.”
Judging by the popular and thankful response to the campaign, the vast majority of the public agree.
“So few people now are working to keep kids from taking drugs,” said one mother of school-aged children. “It seems like schools and government have given up, but how hard is it, really, to educate kids about drugs? We all need to do it, not just parents. You are leading the way. Thank you.”
More publications, events and public service messages are planned over the coming months, and the campaign is designed to sustain over at least a decade, reaching an entire generation.
“It is up to the churches, schools and parent and youth organizations to educate our kids about drugs, no matter what policy or legislation is currently in vogue,” Gonzalez concluded. “Prevention is the only lasting cure.”