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DAD HELPS TEENS FIND `NATURAL HIGHS,' AVOID DRUG `LOWS'

Whipped cream, squirt guns and balloons may not seem like conventional weapons in the war against drugs, but they are an important part of a New Hampshire psychologist's arsenal.

Lee Wotherspoon approaches the battle against addiction with his own army: a group called DAD, or Drugs Are Dangerous.The organization's mission is to show young people how to have fun without drugs and to encourage fathers to get involved in their children's lives.

Wotherspoon cofounded DAD with Ed Ahlman of Kingston, whose son Chris committed suicide in 1988. Wotherspoon had counseled Chris, who was addicted to drugs, before his death.

"We got together to decide what we could do about the problems facing kids, especially drugs," Ahlman said, adding that the group currently has hundreds of members in New England.

"The deficit is for fathers. Women are out there wanting to do whatever they can to help their kids and feeling torn when they're struggling between work and family and children," Wotherspoon said. "The fathers forget. They need to have it pulled together for them."

DAD sponsors, among other things, "Natural High" parties, which feature activities such as squirt-gun fights, whipped-cream battles, balloon volleyball and limbo contests in the mud. Fathers are encouraged to bring their children to the free events and join in the fun.

"I don't drink, I don't do drugs, I don't smoke, and if I'm going to have a party, I don't want to have a party where people stand around and wonder when the next drink is going to be served and talk small talk," Wotherspoon said. "That's boring to me. If I'm going to do one, let's have fun with it."

Lori Knight, 17, a student from Kingston, is a veteran of several Natural High parties.

"I think when kids go to the parties they think of the positive things that they can do instead of drugs and the fun times they can have," she said.

Apart from the Natural High parties, DAD also sponsors support groups and a help-line and provides "tool kits," packages of advice that help fathers deal with children's problems.

Wotherspoon said it's important not only to give kids alternatives to drugs but to start driving the message home early.

"We can't wait until our kids' lives get burned to throw foam on the fire. We need a fire prevention program. And that's what DAD tries to do," he said.

"I'm giving kids an anti-addiction message at these parties, but it's not preaching at them. It's showing them, giving them an experience of what it's like to get a natural high. But I'm also showing them - hey, you can play life for higher stakes."

Wotherspoon's idea for drug-free fun has counterparts across the country. In Bowling Green, Ohio, a group called PARTY, for Promoting Awareness Toward Yourself, uses Wotherspoon's principles.

In the Midwest, a group called Mad Dads Inc., or Men Against Destruction Defending against Drugs and Social Disorder, has taken a more militant stance. The group has chapters in Omaha and Grand Island, Neb., and in Denver.

Mad Dads patrols neighborhoods infested by drug dealers and gangs in an effort to drive them out and paints over gang graffiti. Members also sponsor parties free of drugs and alcohol for teenagers.

"We touch people that other social programs have overlooked," said Ellis Edwards, a spokesman for the group.

Edwards said Mad Dads also provides a surrogate father program.

"Most of our members are fathers, but we all also act as surrogate fathers for youth on the street, kids who have come from broken homes, or who don't have the guidance they need in life," Edwards said.

Currently, Wotherspoon travels across the country helping groups organize their own Natural High events. He said he has sponsored parties at colleges and universities, where he says the principle of fun tends to work just as well with more sophisticated groups.

The idea, however, is to catch kids at a young age to "immunize" them against a future of drugs, and the best way to do that is positive reinforcement.

"Some seeds die and some seeds grow. Some take root and become fine, big trees," he said. "The best we can do is try and help that. If you want a good garden, don't water the weeds."