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NIDA Director Receives Honorary Degree

NIDA Director Dr. Alan I. Leshner has received an honorary doctorate of science from his alma mater, Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. At the May commencement ceremony, University President Richard Kneedler praised Dr. Leshner for being "a national and world leader in combating drug addiction and abuse," and for having devoted a "lifetime of service to the public, with emphasis on improving the lives of young people."

Dr. Leshner earned his bachelor of science degree at Franklin and Marshall, where he majored in psychology. He earned his master's and doctoral degrees in psychology from Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and became deputy director of the National Institute of Mental Health in 1988. He was named director of NIDA in 1994.

Dr. Leshner's son Michael is a member of Franklin and Marshall's class of 1999. Dr. Leshner serves on the college's Alumni Board.

Support Group Improves Outcomes for Pregnant Drug Users

Participation in a support group while pregnant can improve maternal and infant outcomes among drug-dependent women, according to a NIDA-supported study. Researchers from The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, the University of Maryland in Baltimore, Emory University in Atlanta, and the University of Kansas in Lawrence found that women who participated in a drug abuse support group had more prenatal care visits than drug-abusing women who did not attend the support group, and their infants had higher birthweights. The study also found that support group participation resulted in lower medical care costs for mothers and their infants.

The researchers studied 121 drug-dependent pregnant women registered for prenatal care during a 16-month period at a high-risk obstetric clinic in a poor urban neighborhood. A total of 54 women attended the weekly support group meetings held at the clinic, and 67 did not attend. The groups were led by a drug abuse counselor and discussed how drugs affect the developing fetus, how to avoid drug-related situations, and the benefits of staying in touch with each other outside of the weekly meetings.

Average maternal medical care costs were almost $1,000 less for support group attenders than nonattenders. Costs were derived from review of Medicaid claims data and calculated from 1 week before delivery through 3 weeks after. For infants of support group attenders, average medical costs were about $1,500 less in their first 3 weeks than for those whose mothers did not attend.

The researchers believe that locating the support group at the prenatal clinic provides a cost-effective way to deliver drug abuse treatment. They conclude that this type of "low-intensity intervention" may be an effective way for some women to reduce or eliminate their drug use during pregnancy. For other women, the support group may lead to more intensive drug abuse treatment, the researchers suggest.

Student Use of Marijuana Linked to Perceptions of Risk

Many American teenagers today do not believe that smoking marijuana is dangerous. That was one of the conclusions of a recent study, by Dr. Jerald G. Bachman and colleagues at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, that examined changing attitudes of high school students toward the use of marijuana. The study is based on an extensive review of data from NIDA-supported annual surveys of 8th-, 10th-, and 12th-graders. The surveys, which together make up the ongoing Monitoring the Future project, have collected data on drug use from high school seniors since 1975. Data from 8th- and 10th-graders have been collected since 1991.

The percentage of high school seniors who used marijuana at least once during the past year decreased from 50.8 percent in 1979 to 21.9 percent in 1992, before rising steadily to 37.5 percent in 1998. While use rose, the perception of harm from use declined from 76.5 percent in 1992 to 58.5 percent in 1998. Those who disapproved strongly of regular use dropped from 90.1 percent in 1992 to 81.2 percent in 1998.

Dr. Bachman's group's statistical analysis showed that the simultaneous rise in use and decline in perceived harmfulness during the mid-1990s was more than simple coincidence. To account for this waning concern about the dangers of marijuana, the researchers suggest that the decline in drug use in the 1980s may have led to a "lowering of the guard" of government, schools, mass media, and families. News coverage of drug issues fell substantially in the early 1990s, and fewer antidrug messages were aired during prime-time television programs, the researchers note.

Young people pay close attention to realistically and creatively presented information about the risks of drug use, the researchers suggest. "Presenting this kind of information on the risks and consequences of marijuana use only once does not do the job," says Dr. Bachman. "The message must be repeated regularly so we don't lose students from one year to the next."