FOR BILL and Pat Barton in Naples Fla., it was the sudden discovery that their two teenagers were potheads. To their horror, in fact, their 15-year-old daughter Tracy was dating a professional drug dealer who needed a teenage girl in order to gain entree to other high school kids.
For Joyce Nalepka in Silver Spring, it was a Kiss concert in the Capital Centre at which her youngest son was overcome by nausea from the billowing marijuana smoke. That was followed by the discovery that "drugs were being dealt by older boys right outside the elementary school our sons attended."
For Gerri Silverman in posh Shore Hills, N.J., it was stumbling on a local "supermarket of drug paraphernalia" that offered, among other things, "an assortment of kiddie items." Included, she recalls, were footballs and plastic space guns transformed into "power hitters" that blast marijuana smoke into the lungs; baby bottles and pens that double as pot-smoking devices; candy Quaaludes; kiddie belt buckles and skateboards for hiding you "stash," and comic books showing how to cut and snort cocaine.
These parents were not unlike the multitude of others who have become alarmed and angered by the drugs deluging American youth. And little wonder. Daily pot smoking among high school seniors alone climbed 80 percent between 1975 and 1978. Most ominously, some children now start smoking pot as early as the 4th or 5th grade, and marijuana last year accounted for the second largest number of admissions to federally funded drug treatment facilities.
But the Bartons, Joyce Nalepka and Gerri Silverman are nonetheless different -- part of a burgeoning band of fed-up parents who are taking matters into their own hands. They are solving their own children's pot problems in many cases. They are organizing others to become "pains" as parents -- to enforce curfews, to restrict phone calls, to search children's drawers if necessary for drugs and related items. They are distributing research fndings showing that regular pot use can damage the lungs, the brain and the reproductive organs. They are pressuring local businesses, pushing for state laws and working toward a national lobby.
And they are making a difference. As White House drug policy adviser Lee Dogoloff puts it:
"Perhaps the best possible solution to the problem of adolescent drug abuse is parents accepting their responsibilities, asserting their authority and confronting the situation both individually and in groups. Through ignorance of what is actually going on, or through a feeling of shame and helplessness, many parents have been abdicating their responsibilities in this area to schools, social agencies, police or others. The new burgeoning of direct parental involvement and concern stands as one of the most hopeful signs for the coming decade."
Nobody suggests that battling teenage drug abuse is easy, especially not the strict parental surveillance and deep parent-child antagonisms involved in struggling to get a child off pot. "You're not going to like the kid while he's going through this," says Florida's Pat Barton, "and you child will probably hate you." The Bartons' own experience makes that eminently clear.
When Pat and Bill Barton were told by a friend that their daughter Tracy was dating a professional drug dealer, they were stunned. When they questioned Tracy she went pale. "Andrew never deals when I'm around," she insisted. "He likes it that I don't do drugs."
But the Bartons learned from Tracy's 16-year-old brother Brett that "Tracy was really going down the tubes," smoking two to 10 joints a day. In fact, although Brett did not volunteer the information at the time, he had begun sharing joints with his younger sister two years before, when Tracy was 13.
The Bartons fumbled, not sure what to do. Bill phoned the drug dealer and ordered him to keep away from Tracy, threatening legal action. Then Pat asked their high school principal to "do something about the school parking lot, where kids were smoking before school, during school -- they were coming to class stoned." Refusing to accept the principal's claim that he could do little, she contacted the county sheriff, who set up a three-week surveillance of the lot.
In that time a detective hidden in a van took over 400 pictures illustrating that the lot was a pool of pot. Six students were arrested, suspended for five days, and assigned to work in a community program. Among those caught: Brett Barton. He was furious with his parents. But his father shrugged: "You're the one who got yourself busted."
With two potheads on their hands, the Bartons felt overwhelmed until Pat came across the work of Dr. Harold Voth, senior psychiatrist at the Menninger Foundation. Voth had found that "there is only one certain way to be cured of chronic marijuana smoking. The user must be totally isolated from the drug for a minimum of three months. Only then will he become aware of the profound effects the drug has had on him and at the same time become free of its addictive effects. . . . Someone who cares must intervene totally, consistently and with unrelenting preserverance. Efforts short of all-out efforts generally fail."
So the Bartons went all-out, concentrating first on Tracy because her symptoms seemed more serious. Her grades in school were slipping, and the once sunny teenager had become lethargic, sullen, always antagonistic. Her favorite phrase: "Stop hassling me."
The Bartons put Tracy under constant watch. Bill drove her to school. Pat picked her up. They told the school that if she cut a class, the school office and then the Bartons were to be notified at once. At home Tracy was grounded. No dates. No "private" phone calls. No being at home without a parent present. Ever.
"Being watchdogged made me so mad that me and my friend Linda decided to run away to Miami," Tracy recalls. "I hocked my sewing machine, Linda hocked her TV, and we raised $200. But when we got on the bus, the stupid driver stopped in a local Lums restaurant. Linda's mother found us and hauled us off. My dad was furious. He said if I wanted to run away, he'd drive me back to the station. But I decided not to go."
So the parental vigil continued. When Tracy was allowed to take an after-school job at Naples Community Hospital near their home, "We told the staff about her drug problem," Pat says. "She thought we were being unfair and distrustful -- and we were. Totally distrustful. Then one day I got a call from the hospital. Tracy had OD'd on some pills she had taken from home. I was hysterical. But the doctor said she was okay.
"Bill and I didn't know where to turn. We felt so horribly helpless. I can't tell you how awful it was. We sent Tracy to a child psychiatrist, who supported what we were doing, but Tracy refused to go back to her."
Summer came. Tracy got a fulltime job at the hospital. Pat now quit her own real estate job so she could be there when Tracy was not working. She drove her to and from the beach nearby, "and I'd keep driving down at odd moments. Tracy knew if I saw her smoking." Finally, Tracy was allowed to go to a movie one night with a girlfriend. A mistake: Tracy went to a drug dealer instead -- and on a night the police decide to pull off a raid. Tracy was put in her parents' custody.
Despairing, the Bartons sent Tracy to a drug-free clinic in Fort Lauderdale. But in three weeks she ran away -- and came home. "She promised she would stay straight," Pat says. "For the first time, we believed her. She had been pretty much drug-free for three months." And ever since. Tracy is now a freshman at Alabama's Auburn University. "She getting good grades," Pat reports, "and she bubbles with life now."
Brett was impressed by the dramatic change in Tracy and by some medical information his parents gave him. "He was constantly having boils, sore throats -- any cut he had would get him infected," Pat recalls. "One day I showed him a report discussing marijuana's harmful effect on the immune system, and I suggested he try an experiment: Stop smoking pot for three months and see if his health improved. He did -- and it did." He, too, is now off marijuana.
If it's painful for a family to go through such experiences, it's doubly difficult when other youths are pressuring the children to use pot or other drugs, to experiment, continue a habit, join in -- or be left out. That's the way it often happens, and that's why you get a group like the Nosey Parents Association in the Atlanta area.
The kids gave the name to the group, which was formed after shaken parents faced the debris -- marijuana butts, roach clips, rolling paper, wine bottles, beer cans -- left in the wake of a backyard birthday party attended by 11-to-13-year-olds and crashed by some older teenagers. The founder of the Nosey Parents, Keith Schuchard, says of the group's purpose: "The major cause of teenage pot-smoking is peer pressure. The major force we must use to counteract it is parent peer pressure -- a group made up of the parents of the children's friends."
So the Nosey Parents, who even sported NPA T-shirts, did in unison what the Bartons did chiefly by themselves. They talked with their kids about the harmful effects of pot. They set curfews. They ruled out all "unidentified" phone calls. They prohibited parties or "sleepovers" unless parents were home. They put "off limits" any stores, pizza parlors, parks and other places where druggies and pushers were known to hang out. If any kids broke the rules, their parents searched their drawers for pot pipes, grass and rolling papers.
Within a few months, all of the Nosey Parents' children were drugfree, and the great majority have stayed that way.
It's not simple, of course, to get parents to band together. When Florida's Bartons sought to do it after their own struggle, Pat says, "parents were ashamed to come. They felt this would be admitting their kids did drugs." But four couples did show up in the Bartons' living room, "and they were astonished and relieved to find that they were all more or less in the same boat."
Once that hurdle is cleared, such groups seem to grow and spread rapidly. The group the Bartons started, called Naples Informed Parents (NIP), has expanded from 10 parents to 500 in about a year and has inspired other Florida offshoots in Tampa, Fort Myers and Miami.
In Naples itself, says Gerri Kalvin, a county school board member who is also a NIP parent, "The kids who didn't smoke pot used to feel uncomfortable, as though they weren't in the swing of things. Now many kids who were on the edge of the drug scene have gotten the strength to do what they want to do -- steer clear. The number of users has decreased markedly."
In Atlanta, Nosey Parent Keith Schuchard teamed with Thomas Gleaton, a health educator at Georgia State University, to form another growing parent-pressure group. When she discussed the Nosey Parents with Gleaton, whose teenage daughter Lynn was once a pot-smoker, they decided to form the Parent Resource Institute for Drug the governor's signature. "We are now asking the national PTA to officially support a referendum banning the sale of drug-related paraphernalia and to push for legislation to that effect in every state," she says. Education, or PRIDE. Via a $5 packet of literature on anti-pot research findings and on how to establish parent-pressure groups, the organization thus far has spawned active PRIDE groups in California, Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, Texas and Washington State.
Other parents are attacking politically. Stunned by the New Jersey head shops selling items for little children, Gerri Silverman began a statewide campaign through the PTA. The result: The New Jersey legislature passed a law banning the manufacture and sale of drug-related items, a measure now awaiting
Following her experience at the Capital Centre, Silver Spring's Joyce Nalepka organized parents to help defeat Republican Rep. Newton Steers of Maryland because of his support for a marijuana decriminalization bill. Then she successfully pressured both Peoples Drug and Drug Fair to stop selling the rolling papers used to make joints, and Drug Fair is now planning a drug-prevention education campaign.
Some parents, unfortunately, are much more a part of the problem than of the solution to adolescent drug abuse. Dr. Ingrid Lantner, a Cleveland pediatrician who has begun her own campaign against pot, says that what shocks her most during the school talks she delivers is the evidence she finds of adults actually giving pot to their young children. She cites, for example, one of the many written questions she has gotten from students reflecting this fact:
"I was given pot by my parents when I was six. Three cigarettes a day or more. I am now ten. Is there any chance that my eggs are damaged or my growth stunted?"
The more common problem, though, is sheer ignorance by parents and others of the extent of drug abuse and of what it can do to some children. Dr. Lantner herself was not much concerned about pot until the 1978 murder of a 15-year-old Cleveland-area boy whose body was found stuffed in a manhole. After the murder was reported in the Cleveland papers, she got a call from a teenage boy named Bobby, a patient she had not seen for awhile.
"I need to come over and talk to you," he said -- and talk he did. He told her that the murder had occurred six months before, that about 100 teenagers had known where the body was, and that "after pot parties at night, kids would go to the manhole and shine a flashlight down on the decomposing corpse."
When Dr. Lantner asked why, he said, "For kicks." Then he begged her to get him into a drug removal center. "Reading that newspaper story," he said, "I suddenly realized how pot can make you do crazy things. I'm hooked on it. I've tried to stop smoking it. But I have such a craving for the next joint that I know I can't stop on my own."
This, of course, is hardly a typical story. But Dr. Lantner says she has discovered a number of symptoms to be "very typical for most teenage users: decreasing school performance, impaired short-term memory, cough, chest pains, depression, caring less about everything and drastic, inexplicable changes of moods."
Making parents aware of such symptoms and distributing research findings on biological and psychological hazards of marijuana are perhaps the central aims of the spreading groups of parent pot-fighters. They are seeking to erase that "ignorance of what is actually going on" and those "feelings of helplessness or shame" that White House adviser Dogoloff speaks of. And he is far from alone in seeing the promise of this movement.
Dr. Robert DuPont, former director of the government's National Institute on Drug Abuse, for example, remarks: "Among drug abuse professionals and guidance counselors, parents have long been the subject of put-downs. . . . But they are a major part of the solution."
Adds psychiatrist Mitchell Rosenthal, president of Phoenix House, the nation's largest residential drug-free treatment program: "The effects of marijuana itself vary so much from individual to individual that no single type of approach will guarantee success. However, given all that we've got, the best hope for any parent, or any group of parents, is to take a firm, clear and united stand against the use of marijuana."