Stoughton drug prevention group avoids scare tactics

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By Justin Graeber
Enterprise Staff Writer
Posted Mar 03, 2012 @ 06:00 AM


Remember “This is your brain on drugs?”

The 1980s-era anti-drug commercial compared the effect of drugs on the brain to an egg sizzling in a frying pan. A memorable commercial even years later, but it turns out it’s better marketing than it is drug prevention.

Drug prevention tactics have gotten away from fear (think “Reefer Madness”) as studies have shown their lack of effectiveness, said Stephanie Patton, program coordinator for OASIS, which stands for Organizing Against Substances in Stoughton.

“They don’t have any long-term effect,” Patton said.

Instead, OASIS is trying to enforce a positive message through action. This year, students at Stoughton High School were required to sign a pledge with their parents that they would be substance-free before they could get prom tickets.

A kick-off “Safe Prom” event was held with guest speakers and a fashion show.

“It sends a message about what’s OK on prom night,” Patton said.

Another example, Patton said, is a marketing campaign focused on busting the myth that most kids are into drugs or alcohol. Statistics actually show that less than half of high school students have dabbled, she said.

“We want to applaud the kids who are doing the right thing,” she said. “We need to be honest with kids … but things need to be in context. Kids aren’t stupid.”

OASIS has been around since 2004 and is under the umbrella of the Stoughton Youth Commission. Funded by a federal grant, the program grew out of responses to several high-profile issues with heroin in town, including a high school student arrested after an assistant principal found her with heroin and a syringe on school grounds and a pediatrician who publicly turned in his 19-year-old son for heroin possession.

When the group looked further into drug use in town, Patton said, it discovered the issue – at least at the high school level – wasn’t opiates like heroin, but alcohol and marijuana.

“We’re always worried about alcohol,” said Patton, an Easton resident. “It has to do with permissive attitudes.”

She said numbers are showing that the program’s efforts are having an effect on teen drinking.

“We’re got a long way to go but we’re trending in the right direction.”

However, Patton said some of the numbers (OASIS conducts a youth risk behavior survey every other year) show that marijuana use is increasing. Patton said there’s misinformation out there. For example, many people think a recent state referendum that made getting caught with small amounts of marijuana a civil offense actually made the drug legal.

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