Special Report: Public Education
Volume 12, Number 1
NIDA Goes to Town
NIDA Director Dr. Alan I. Leshner in
. . . to bring the latest drug abuse research
findings to communities across the Nation and to learn how it can continue
to support local efforts to prevent and treat drug abuse and addiction
A St. Louis Town Meeting community
By Robert Mathias
NIDA NOTES Staff Writer
As part of an expanded effort to increase public knowledge about drug
abuse and addiction, NIDA has been holding a series of Town Meetings in
communities across the Nation. The meetings are designed to replace common
misconceptions and myths about drug abuse and addiction with scientific
Last year, NIDA held Town Meetings in Miami in April; in Columbus, Ohio,
in May; and in St. Louis in October. The Institute also held regional meetings
in Tampa, Florida, in April and in San Francisco in December to respond
to emerging issues in those areas. The Tampa meeting focused on addiction
as a brain disorder and on adolescent treatment. The San Francisco meeting
addressed the growing problem of methamphetamine abuse, which is currently
pronounced in the western United States. This year, NIDA is holding at least
three more Town Meetings. The first 1997 Town Meeting will take place in
Dallas on March 24, and others are planned for Chicago on May 30 and Philadelphia
in the fall.
"The Town Meetings are furthering one of NIDA's most important goals,"
says NIDA Director Dr. Alan I. Leshner. "They are enabling us to communicate
scientific knowledge about the actions and effects of drugs on the brain
to help the public better understand the nature of addiction. And they are
helping us to transfer research findings on the most effective strategies
for drug abuse prevention and treatment to the community," he says.
The meetings have three specific objectives: to increase public knowledge
about NIDA-sponsored research and how this research can be used to assess
and address local drug abuse problems; to work with community-based organizations
to increase the dissemination of available drug abuse information and materials;
and to learn about local needs for additional scientific information to
help shape NIDA's research agenda.
To help achieve these goals, local participants play a central role in
all aspects of the meetings. A nearby major research university and the
State alcohol and drug abuse agency cosponsor the meeting in partnership
with community-based organizations or coalitions working to address drug
abuse in the community. These local participants help shape the meetings'
agendas to respond to community needs and interests, aid NIDA in informing
their members and other interested individuals about the upcoming meetings,
and organize and participate in presentations. People attending the meetings
include local civic leaders, policy makers, public officials, drug abuse
prevention and treatment professionals, and concerned citizens.
|The St. Louis Town Meeting featured an interactive video program called
ATOD-TV. Viewers touch a video screen, shown here, to select from a menu
of mini-television shows in which human and animated characters play out
assorted drug abuse and addiction scenarios.|
Because many Town Meeting participants have limited knowledge about drug
abuse and addiction, NIDA has been working with local organizers to make
the scientific information presented more understandable and interesting
to a general audience. For example, the St. Louis meeting featured an interactive
video program called ATOD-TV, short for Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drugs-TV.
The program is designed to change misconceptions about drug abuse and increase
scientific knowledge about drug abuse and addiction. Dr. Danny Wedding of
the Missouri Institute of Mental Health (MIMH) showcased ATOD-TV's menu
of mini-television programs, which viewers normally gain access to by touching
a video screen to select different shows. In each TV show, human and animated
characters play out assorted scenarios that illustrate different aspects
of drug abuse and addiction. For example, in the hospital drama, "St.
Nowhere," viewers touch the screen to activate characters in different
hospital rooms, who talk about and dramatize the impact of drug addiction
on their lives. Dr. Wedding developed ATOD-TV with his associate at MIMH,
Dr. Joel Epstein, under a NIDA Science Education Drug Abuse Partnership
Award. Because of the effectiveness of this presentation, NIDA has invited
Dr. Wedding to present the program at the Dallas Town Meeting in March.
The Town Meetings held to date reflect local interests:
- In Miami, NIDA and the University of Miami cosponsored the meeting
in cooperation with the Miami Coalition for a Safe and Drug-Free Community,
the Florida Alcohol and Drug Abuse Association, the Red Ribbon Council,
and the Up-Front Drug Information Center. More than 400 scientists and
community participants exchanged information about local and national trends
and patterns of drug use, the link between drug abuse and AIDS, and strategies
for the prevention and treatment of drug abuse and addiction.
- In Columbus, Ohio, NIDA cosponsored the meeting with the Ohio Department
of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services. Because local organizations wanted
to focus on effective approaches to preventing alcohol and drug abuse,
Dr. Zili Sloboda, who heads NIDA's Division of Epidemiology and Prevention
Research, presented key elements of drug abuse prevention, and a panel
of NIDA researchers discussed how to apply model drug abuse prevention
programs in the community.
- In St. Louis, Dr. Leshner met with 300 parents, teachers, students,
and concerned citizens at a local high school, where he answered questions
about a range of drug abuse prevention and addiction issues. The next day,
NIDA, the Washington University School of Medicine, and the Missouri Department
of Mental Health's Division of Alcohol and Drug Abuse cosponsored NIDA's
Town Meeting in partnership with the National Council on Alcoholism and
Drug AbuseSt. Louis Area and the Missouri Association of Community
Task Forces. This meeting focused on ways to use the latest scientific
research on drug abuse and addiction to assess Missouri's drug abuse problems
and develop effective programs tailored to meet State and local needs.
At the conclusion of each Town Meeting, Dr. Leshner and representatives
from State organizations and community-based groups discussed how drug abuse
research can help community organizations and practitioners in their efforts
to prevent and treat drug abuse and addiction. Community representatives
also made suggestions about how NIDA research can address their needs.
"We now know from research more than we have ever known about drug
abuse and addiction and how to get a handle on the problem," Dr. Leshner
says. "NIDA's Town Meetings are bringing this scientific knowledge
about preventing drug abuse and treating addiction to the grassroots where
people can use it to make a difference in their communities," he says.
For information about attending NIDA's Town Meeting in Chicago on
May 30th, contact Traci Eng at Hi-Tech International, Inc., (703) 998-0287,
From NIDA NOTES, January/February, 1997
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