Given the fact that most American adults born after World War II have used illegal drugs (typically marijuana), can we expect public discussions of this subject to become more honest, or less so? In an op-ed piece The Wall Street Journal ran on Monday, addiction expert (and occasional reason contributor) Stanton Peele defends Barack Obama against the argument that it's irresponsible for politicians to discuss their youthful drug use:
Perhaps it can be good for young people to learn that as they mature they can, and will, straighten out and fly right?
This is the opposite of the approach of nearly all school drug education programs. Here the logic is to troop in people who have ruined their lives by their drug use and drinking, as object lessons in the evils of sin. But there are reasons to believe that kids reject negative messages from figures like these, and that purely scare tactics don't work. Research on effective drug resistance programs finds that the best ways to prevent substance abuse are for kids to develop skills, feel good about themselves, have positive peers, and look forward to their futures.
Peele, whose latest book is Addiction-Proof Your Child, notes that survey data from the year Obama turned 18 indicate that two-thirds of high school seniors had tried illegal drugs. Drug education cannot be credible if it denies or ignores the reality that the vast majority of them nevertheless turned out OK.