Originally created 08/22/96

Drug victims now younger, senator says



Younger children are being targeted by drug pushers in a new epidemic of abuse, U.S. Sen. Paul Coverdell told Richmond County leaders Wednesday, urging them to strengthen families and public policy in the war on drugs.

The main difference between the 1970s drug explosion and a reported 105 percent increase in teen drug use in the 1990s is the age of users, Mr. Coverdell said. Users in the 1970s were 17 to 21,- he said, but the targeted customer today is 8 to 13- - the same age psychologists urge intervention efforts for at-risk children.

"I told the president of Mexico, and I'll repeat it to you, this is the first war I have ever seen waged against children," said Mr. Coverdell, who called the drug trade a "stealth war" by drug cartels.

The remarks came as part of a state tour the senator made Wednesday in the wake of a government report showing skyrocketing teen-age drug use. The statistics showed cocaine use among 12- to 17-year-olds rose 166 percent from 1992 to 1995 and that marijuana use increased 150 percent.

Richmond and Columbia County officials said they have seen an increase in marijuana and LSD use, although children here usually don't use hard-core drugs like cocaine and heroin.ro

At a Greater Augusta Chamber of Commerce workshop Wednesday, addiction specialists pointed to apathetic parents and cultural acceptance of drugs as factors in increased drug abuse. Art Sullwold, a Veterans Affairsdnsa specialist, urged intervention efforts for children before they reach sixth grade.

Efforts should focus on quashing factors found in most drug abuse cases, such as use by parents, sexual and physical abuse or neglect, absent fathers and availability of drugs, he said.

Groups like churches, youth groups and schools, as well as the family can steer children away from drugs, added Allen Josephson, a child specialist from the Medical College of Georgia. Children who feel good about their accomplishments and connected to their parents are less likely to use drugs to alter their moods and escape from reality, he said.

Mr. Coverdell urged a renewed emphasis on the war on drugs, saying he was glad the Clinton administration had decided to tighten interdiction efforts and reopen the office of a "drug czar" responsible for directing anti-drug efforts. He also urged an alliance among the United States, Mexico, Bolivia, Brazil and Peru to clamp down on the drug trade.

Republicans, including presidential nominee Bob Dole, have blasted President Clinton for what they say is an apathetic attitude on drugs and for cutting funding to programs like the drug czar's office, saying it contributed to the sharp increase in drug use. "It's obvious they made a bad decision," Mr. Coverdell said Wednesday. "The message was, `Hey, this is OK.' And as a result, 2 million more people have been damaged."