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Keep talking: U.S. kids get anti-drug pitch

Billings Gazette opinion

This is for all the parents, grandparents, teachers and mentors who wonder whether their kids are listening when they talk about the dangers of tobacco, alcohol and other drugs.

American youths are less likely to use those substances if they hear anti-tobacco, anti-alcohol or anti-drug messages. That fact was confirmed again in the 2003 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. This annual survey, conducted by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, involved more than 22,000 Americans between the ages of 12 and 17. The 2003 survey results released recently show that youths who had heard anti-drug messages were less likely to drink, less likely to engage in binge drinking and less likely to use illegal drugs than were youths who reported not hearing any anti-drug messages.

Nearly 60 percent of the youths surveyed reported having talked with at least one parent about the dangers of using tobacco, alcohol and drugs in the year before the survey. But an even more common setting for youths to hear anti-drug messages was in regular school classes (68 percent).

Among youths surveyed, 83.6 percent reported having heard or seen a drug prevention message in the past year on posters, pamphlets or in mass media. Those who said they'd heard prevention messages in the media were less likely to say they'd been drinking or using drugs in the past month.

Communication is effective in reducing youth substance use and abuse. Telling kids why they should keep away from drugs isn't a guarantee that they will stay drug-free. But it improves their chances.

The SAMHSA survey should strengthen adults' resolve to broach these uncomfortable subjects with children. Kids are listening. Let's keep talking.