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Getting parents and citizens to pull their heads out of the sand is the first step in coming to terms with increasing drug and alcohol use among teenagers, a panel formed to deal with the issue says.

Conceding drug and alcohol use among teenagers can never be fully eradicated, the eight panel members at Wednesday night's town meeting said parents initially deny their children are abusing substances.And denying the existence of a problem, for as long as two years, compounds problems, said Carol Vorhees, Salt Lake City School District Alcohol and Drug Education director.

"I'm not so sure we prevent as much abuse . . . but we get parents out of a denial process," Vorhees told the two dozen people gathered at the town meeting in Highland High School.

The pervasiveness of drug use is "as bad as it's ever been," said Salt Lake police Chief Mike Chabries. "We're not sure enforcement is the answer. Honestly."

"We have a real big denial factor," said Marvin Davis, member of the Mayor's Task Force on Drugs. "The question is whether we just get to the point where we have total denial."

Davis, a minister, pointed to use of beer, pot and pills throughout the past 30 years.

"This society has always had a drug-abuse and alcohol-abuse problem," said Davis.

But Dr. Harry Gibbons, Salt Lake City-County Health Department director, said Utah has a lower percentage of those abusing drugs and alcohol than those in other states and the national average.

That, countered Davis, is the whole problem.

"Utah is one of the states that continues to hide its head in the sand like an ostrich," said Davis, adding, "We've got to stop hiding our heads in the sand."

Task force member and TV news anchor Phil Riesen last weekend hosted a television show on teens and drug use. The six youths featured on the public affairs show saw nothing wrong with getting high and in fact enjoyed alcohol and drugs, "even though their lives were pretty much in the toilet. . . ."

"Roughly 130 students at every high school in this state have serious or chronic drug problems," said Riesen, adding peer pressure and parental denial are the leading culprits of increased abuse.


(Additional information)

Suggestions welcome

How can the city, its leaders, citizens and school officials, better intervene in kids' lives before drugs and alcohol become a pattern?

Recommendations to the Mayor's Task Force on Drugs will go to Mayor Palmer DePaulis and then to the Legislature to come up with ordinances and laws to ease the spread. And the panel needs citizen comments on what is and what is not working.

Comments may be mailed to Chief Mike Chabries, Salt Lake City Police Department, Public Safety Building, 315 E. Second South, Salt Lake City, UT 84111.

A second town meeting is scheduled May 24 at 7:30 p.m. in West High School.