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Net Becomes Battleground In Drug War
New Sites Rebut Pro-Pot Messages
Children searching the Internet for information about drugs will find about 1 million "hits," many of which tell them how to buy, sell and grow marijuana.
Yahoo and Altavista search engines feature Web sites ranging from how to smoke banana peels to passing a drug test with drugs in your system to properly tending a marijuana garden.
But the White House and members of Congress hope to combat this message and drug use among youth with the introduction of two innovative Web sites where parents and children can find information on fighting drugs.
"We must ensure that this medium of distributing information works for us and not against us," said Rep. Jim Kolbe, Arizona Republican.
Mr. Kolbe is one of many representatives who support America Online, ABC/Disney and the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy's media campaign for drug prevention, which is now moving into the on-line community with the two Web sites.
"Unlike advertising the traditional media outreach, the Internet transcends geographical and economic boundaries and allows new communities to come together in an interactive, substantive way," said Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey, director of the White House drug control office and leader of the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign.
The first Web site, ABC/Disney's www.Freevibe.com, is geared toward children ages 10-13 with an interactive, trendy appeal to drug-related information. Questions such as "How to say no" and "Why people take drugs" are addressed and kids will also find games, news and links that discourage drug use.
America Online's Parents Drug Resource Center guides parents in recognizing and preventing drug use by their teens. Warning signs for parents are physical changes as well as differences in personality and behavior. They can talk to other parents who have dealt with similar situations. The AOL keyword for the site is "Drug Help."
"The Center is . . . reaching into every community, even on-line communities, to help kids learn the truth about drug use so that they can lead clean, healthy lives," Gen. McCaffrey said in a note to parents on the Web site.
This is a step in the right direction, said Sue Rusche, director of the National Families in Action. It is unsafe for children even to research the Internet on the subject of drugs, she said.
"We are deeply concerned about the Web sites put out by people who think drugs should be legalized and advocate for that, but we are delighted to hear of new Web sites providing good information for parents and kids," she said.
The Internet is dominated by those who want to see drugs legalized because this is the general consensus, said Allen St. Pierre, director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
"AOL polls show that people are in favor of reform," he said. "These media groups and the government want to put these voices aside."
Mr. St. Pierre said the two newly released sites are misleading because they are not based on scientific information.
Claims of marijuana as a gateway drug that is addictive are false, according to scientific and governmental research, he noted. Also, he added, this research shows that marijuana does not cause physical withdrawal or hurt the body.
"Government is not going to get the desired effect," Mr. St. Pierre said. "The harder they push, the more kids use drugs."
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