Emblazoned as the centerpiece of Boy Scouts’ Second Class emblem is the legend: “Be Prepared.” In the 37 tasks a Scout must perform to achieve that rank, one has a special meaning in today’s society, and it’s all about being prepared. That requirement urges the Scouts to be informed about the “dangers of substance addictions,” drugs.
In a groundbreaking partnership, the Boy Scouts of America, founded in 1910, is teaming up with the Foundation for a Drug-Free World. The Foundation, sponsored by the Church of Scientology, has a multi-media campaign, “The Truth About Drugs,” which is welcomed by Boy Scouts of America (BSA) and made available to its members.
“The Boy Scouts exist to help people make ethical choices over their lifetime. Certainly [the decision to abstain from drug use] is a critical ethical choice that they would make, and we want them to make informed decisions,” said Chuck Keathley, the chief executive of the BSA’s Greater Los Angeles Area Council, who was at the forefront of implementing the Foundation’s addiction-prevention material.
“The Truth About Drugs” materials have already reached an estimated 127,000 Boy Scouts in 39 states.
Scouts must “participate in a school, community, or troop program on the dangers of using drugs, alcohol, and tobacco, and other practices that could be harmful to [one’s] health. Discuss [one’s] participation in the program with … family, and explain the dangers of substance addictions,” states a BSA manual.
With the help of BSA executives and Foundation members, Keathley started a pilot program in 2014 involving 50 Boy Scout leaders and 5,000 scouts. The success of this and other early incarnations of the program throughout the nation led to the May 2015 memo of understanding signed by Foundation and BSA officials.
“I believe that it is working effectively and that it is a powerful tool to educate our youth members based on facts, metrics and real information, as opposed to anecdotal stories about what the risks are,” Keathley said.
Keathley pointed to the “interactive components” that characterize “The Truth About Drugs,” which distinguishes it from other prevention programs with a focus on lecturing. Via the curriculum’s video and print materials, “there can be self-study, home study and discussions within the Boy Scout troop.”
Drawn from the complete standard “Truth About Drugs” curriculum designed for school classroom settings and broken down into multiple lessons, the Scouts’ more succinct version is aimed at fitting into the time frame of troop meetings led by scoutmasters. The BSA’s curriculum also emphasizes using the material to inspire discussion about drug and alcohol abuse between scouts and their families as well as their peers.
The heart of “The Truth About Drugs” program is that it empowers kids with straight information from former users and addicts. That data allow the youths to make their own informed decisions.
There is also an emphasis in the Boy Scouts’ customized material on discouraging marijuana use. This was in response to the increasing availability of cannabis resulting from decriminalization and legalization efforts that have occurred in several states throughout the last two decades. In recent years voters in Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska and the District of Columbia legalized recreational marijuana use. Voter initiatives and legislatures in a number of states will decide on recreational and medicinal legalization in the near future. “[Legalization is] a problem—and we all know it—for kids to get access,” said Foundation member Bob Adams, a Scientologist since 1973 and former NFL pro football player.
“If people know and understand the dangers of drugs and where they can lead if you get involved with them, then they will be able to think more positively about their own survival and act much more responsibly.”
Since 2013 Adams and Bob Carroll, another Foundation member and longtime Scientologist, were instrumental in forging the Boy Scouts partnership. Over the next two years Adams, Carroll, Keathley and a sizable number of other officials from the Foundation and BSA conducted numerous planning sessions and roundtables throughout the country aimed at making “The Truth About Drugs” a staple element in the Boy Scouts’ rank-advancement system.
Jose Niño is a member of the BSA national board of directors. Early on Niño was impressed with “The Truth About Drugs” and saw it as synergistic with Boy Scout programs and activities. “The Truth About Drugs” served as a logical first step toward a curriculum partnership because it mirrored the BSA’s existing drug-education requirement.
Carroll and his wife “have been involved with the program with schools and with the police and things of that nature, and we have been very impressed with the workability of the program,” Carroll said. “I felt I needed to try to do more with it, so that’s when I got in touch with … Jose Niño, who is a major player in the Boy Scouts. He was very interested in the program. He felt it was something scouts really needed mainly because with drugs, very often, it follows along with criminality. His feeling was that with the program, we can eventually nip those things in the bud, so to speak, and make the Boy Scouts aware of the dangers.”
Carroll further pointed out what he emphasized is the basic premise of the program: “If people know and understand the dangers of drugs and where they can lead if you get involved with them, then they will be able to think more positively about their own survival and act much more responsibly.”
In terms of the program’s effectiveness in driving home the harsh realities that can result from delving into alcohol and illicit drug abuse, Adams noted its audio/visual emphasis that includes sobering testimonials from recovering addicts. “If you let the videos roll and you tell the kids, or adults, ‘this is what these drugs are, this is what they do, these are the consequences from the voices of those who experienced it, that’s what really rocks their boat—the testimonials of what drugs are and what they do,” Adams said. “It’s not a cop up there, or a teacher, or a coach trying to explain to them what this is all about. You’ve got real stories, real people.”
The partnership of Drug-Free World and BSA is all the more historic with the Foundation’s sponsor, Scientology: Founder L. Ron Hubbard was an avid Scout—in 1924 becoming at age 13 the youngest-ever Eagle Scout, the program’s top rank.