Prevention Programs DO WORK
Reaching Youth with Effective Drug Education
by Mari Werner
The drug-related death on June 5, 2002 of punk
rock legend Dee Dee Ramone in his Hollywood
apartment was another sad but common statistic from
long-term substance abuse.
A heroin user since the
age of 15, Dee Dee, who died at 49, told a reporter
in 1998, "Heroin is a cunning and insidious disease.
It will trick you any way it can".
A study from the federal Substance Abuse and
Mental Health Services Administration, released in
March 2002, reports that Los Angeles has the
nation's highest drug-related deaths -- 1,192 of
them in the year 2000 alone (the most recent annual
statistics available). Heroin, cocaine and alcohol
accounted for 40% of the deaths, mostly in
individuals age 25 or above. And like Dee Dee Ramone and many others before him, most if not all
of those who die from drugs started their abuse and
Currently, every year in the United States, over
2.9 million people start using illegal drugs, the
vast majority of them children. If only 10 percent
of them reach a point of needing professional help,
simple math demonstrates that there are nowhere near
enough resources to do the job. And even for those
who do make it to packed rehab programs, the results
are seldom lasting, and a true cure is rare.
It is facts like these that drive Tony Bylsma,
the director of drug education and prevention for
the Narconon drug rehabilitation program, to reach
out to more and more children in the greater Los
Angeles area each year. Using drug education
lectures that have been refined over the past 23
years, Bylsma and other lecturers are proving that
with a solid education in drugs, kids can make sane
and sensible decisions about drugs that will keep
them from abusing.
"You're the first person that actually made me
think and see the real side of drugs," said one LA
high school student after a Narconon drug education
lecture. You're not like all the other people who
I've heard speak. They all say, 'Don't do drugs.
Drugs are bad., But you said, 'Make your own
decisions.' For the first time ever I listened.',
"I don't think that 'e', Ecstasy, is a good idea
anymore," wrote a student from Cleveland High
School. "I will always have (the lecture] in the
back of my mind."
School administrators and teachers have also
noted the difference, at times remarkable, in
students after the lectures.
"The students in his [Bylsma's] classes
universally reported that they had, in fact,
definitely learned things that they had not
previously known," said one Los Angeles school
principal. "He was not viewed as another adult
lecturing' and several students reported a desire to
give up their drug use, or reaffirmed their
commitment not to use."
Narconon lectures are used in classrooms in
other U.S. cities, including New England, where the
leading drug education specialist in the Narconon
network, Bobby Wiggins, has reached hundreds of
thousands of students.
Reduction of drug use of as much as 70 percent
has been reported in some schools as a result of
the Narconon drug education lectures. In response
to demand, Wiggins has trained up scores of other
lecturers, like Bylsma, and recorded his own
lectures onto video. The drug education program has
now reached close to a million students.
Education versus Fear
Narconon's drug education draws on a vast amount
of experience and knowledge. The Narconon drug
rehabilitation program, which uses exclusively the
research and discoveries of L. Ron Hubbard, is
validated internationally by drug experts and
supported by governments in several countries its
success rate: an average of 70 percent of students
who complete the program never return to drugs.
Started in 1966, Narconon has helped tens of
thousands of people to overcome addiction and
Though the program is independent and not religious in
nature, it is supported by Churches of
Scientology and Scientologists world wide -- a 100
percent drug-free community of millions -- for its
Narconon undertook broad drug education in the
1970s, after observing that most attempts at
prevention have little to do with education, but
more with fear. "Education" also tends to convey
that children and adolescents are not yet
responsible enough to make good decisions where
drugs are concerned. Thus in many cases, it
consists of grotesque pictures of burned-out,
shriveled lungs, or arms torn up by needles.
According to Bylsma, there is a huge liability
in trying to influence kids away from drugs in this
"When they finally meet someone who's using a
drug they heard horror stories about, and he doesn't
look anything like the pictures, it tends to
invalidate all warnings," he said.
Most past drug education approaches, he said,
tried to instill an idea or thought into the child's
consciousness -with or without his consent -- to
motivate him to act in a desired way.
"It's the same principle used in advertising.
There's a trend of not even talking about the
product, but just showing it in a way that is
supposed to motivate the audience to go buy it,"
Bylsma said. "When Brittany Spears sells Pepsi to
the masses, she never once says that it tastes
better than the competition, nor that it is cheaper
or better for you. She just holds the can up,
dances around it and makes sure that you see how
good it looks in her hand. A can of 7-UP would look
just as good, or even motor oil."
Today, attempts to instill images against drugs
into young minds are overpowered by the massive
promotion and advertising that occurs for drug
products in every medium. Drugs are in the
classrooms, as well as in the medicine cabinets at
home. They pervade all forms of media -- so much so
that a child can hardly watch TV or flip through a
magazine for more than a few minutes without being
told how to relieve aches, indigestion, obesity and
depression with drugs.
Bylsma said that an anti-drug message that tries
to use the same tactics in the onslaught of pro-drug
messages in society gets lost. Further, drug
advertising attaches itself to images of fun, or
being able to perform well in life. The anti-drug
messages attach to images of fear, decay and damage.
"Which would kids rather pay attention to?" said
Bylsma, who noted that kids also get unnerved when
programs use fear, as they resent the attempt to
make their decision for them. It also spurs some to
rebel and go the other direction.
Such outcomes have led to the belief by many
that drug prevention and education is ineffective in
stemming the tide of drug abuse.
"Only ineffective education gets an ineffective
result," Bylsma said.
Drawing on Experience
In 1979, two of Narconon's staff in Los Angeles
determined that the only viable, long-term answer to
the drug trend was education and prevention. They
drew on the extensive experience of Narconon
executives and counselors, and sifted through all
the worthwhile references on drugs that they could
find, including all the writings of L. Ron Hubbard
on the subject.
From there they developed a drug education
program like no other, then as well as now.
Narconon drug education takes a unique
approach. It recognizes that students are already
being covertly convinced to consume drugs, through
various channels in society. And it presumes that
students are capable of rational, independent
decisions. Each lecture begins with a clear message
to the students that the purpose of the talk is
education, and the decision making is up to them.
After first developing the program in 1979,
Narconon executives sent a letter out to all LA area
schools. They got back 200 responses, and from that
point, they began delivering 300 to 500 drug
education lectures per year.
In January 1981, Narconon in Los Angeles called
and brought together the directors of other Narconon
offices in the United States for a seminar on how to
deliver effective drug education to children.
Tony Bylsma was director of Narconon St. Louis
at the time, and was one of those called. He came
to LA, learned the drug education program and took
it home. Using what he knew over the next few
years, he delivered drug education lectures to more
than 100,000 people, the majority of those students.
After a long hiatus, in 1999 he again determined to
approach the drug problem from the standpoint of
education and this time, he would make it his
In 2000, after training in Boston under today's
leading Narconon drug education expert, Bobby
Wiggins, Bylsma moved to Los Angeles and established
Narconon Drug Prevention and Education.
He and program director Sigal Adini now work out
of a storefront office in Glendale, arranging and
delivering lectures at Southland schools. They
reach an average of 300 students, mostly high
school, each week. Bylsma spends most of his
weekdays at the schools, while Adini handles the
promotion and scheduling and also delivers some of
the talks. Bylsma sometimes calls on another
veteran Narconon speaker from the Narconon center in Newport Beach, Gerry Marshall, to meet
demand. To reach even more youth, the lectures have
been videotaped by an associated group, Friends of
Narconon, and are distributed nationwide.
Bylsma and Marshall both are capable of
delivering the talks to high schools, middle schools
and grade schools, adjusting the presentation and
examples to fit the age group. In some schools an
assembly is called and they may speak to all or most
of the student body at the same time. In others
they speak to one or two classes at a time and often
spend the full day at the school giving a different
talk at each class period.
Over the years the program has been augmented
and refined based on survey results from students.
It includes a number of different lectures
focusing on different aspects of drug abuse --
effects on the body, the mind, the individual
himself and his life and future, as well as lectures
on specific drugs such as marijuana, ecstasy and
LSD. One lecture is on drugs and alcohol in the
media, and another is on achieving goals -- which,
in addition to demonstrating drugs, ills effects on
life achievement, provides the students with tools
to help them set and achieve their aims.
"An important part of drug education is to let
students know that there are other and better tools
than drugs for handling life and getting some
respite from it," Bylsma said.
Each lecture opens with some ground rules. "I'm
not going to tell you what to do and I'm not going
to try to scare you," Bylsma tells them. He also
tells them he won't treat them like little kids or
give them cute little sayings to use, like "Just say
The educational part of each talk begins with
the definition of a drug: A drug is any substance
you put in the body that is not a food and that
changes the way the body or the mind is working. He
explains, per the researches of L. Ron Hubbard, how
all drugs are essentially poisons, whether cocaine,
alcohol, ecstasy, coffee or any other drug.
The body's first response to a poison is to
speed up and try to get rid of it. Thus the first
effect of a small amount of any drug is to act as a
stimulant. If more of the drug is consumed, it
begins to act as a depressant. The body begins to
be overwhelmed and slows down to try to minimize the
effect of the poison. If still more of the drug is
consumed the depressant effect can lead to a coma
and eventually to the third physical response, which
Building from these basics, the lectures differ,
depending on whether he is addressing their effect
on the body, the mind or the individual himself.
If he is giving talks to several different
classes at the same school, he'll try to give a
different talk to each class. The students talk
about it to each other, he says, and by giving
several different talks he leaves as much
information with them as possible.
Depending on which lecture he is giving he'll
back it up with stories from his own personal
experience. Having gotten off drugs through
Narconon himself, and having worked with the
program for many years, he has plenty of them.
After each lecture, students routinely have
questions, and Bylsma stays to answer them. He is
frequently asked to stay and continue talking or
answering questions after a class period is over.
He recalls one time after a lecture went
particularly long, an impressed teacher told him,
"They chased out the last guest speaker after about
His talks generate so much interest that it is
not unusual for students to give up a break to stay
and hear more, or to ask questions.
"Kids are in mystery to some degree about
drugs. You fill in the blanks, and they're very
interested. And if a kid understands something,
he's less likely to have to experiment with it to
know what it is," Bylsma said.
"Once again, you have 'wowed' the students with
your very powerful presentation about the dangers of
drug use," wrote a school counselor in an assessment
of Bylsma’s lectures. "During each of your talks, I
was impressed with how attentive the classes were --
at times I could even hear the proverbial pin
dropping. The details you provide, humor you
interject and the personal story you share have a
very profound effect on our young people.,,
In a number of cases, the lectures have helped
students caught in the dilemma of having family
members, even parents, who take drugs. "These kids
have a particularly confusing time of it, trying to
sort out right from wrong. Learning facts about
drugs and drug use helps them to understand, to sort
that out," said Bylsma.
After each lecture, the students are given a
survey, to be filled out anonymously, asking what
they thought of the lecture, whether it changed the
way they think about drugs and how they can use what
they learned. Almost one for one they say their
thoughts about drugs changed from the lecture.
Teachers, counselors and school administrators
are also asked for their review, and routinely give
high p raise for the lectures. “I, personally, was
very moved by the presentation. I also learned new
information along with our students," said one Los
Angeles school principal. "I believe, after hearing
the presentation myself, that this program can truly
save lives as well as help people make decisions
that will lead them towards productive lives.”
As Bylsma describes it, "Instead of
concentrating on 'stopping' drug abuse, the Narconon
drug education program puts children into control as
far as drugs are concerned. Children and teenagers
are quite capable of understanding and making their
own sensible, informed decisions."
Narconon's plan is to keep going until they are
reaching all of the Southland schools and,
nationally, the 2.9 million children that have been
starting on drugs each year.
"Bit by bit, we're chipping away at the drug
culture. We're aiming toward a point when the entire
society can say 'know to drugs,"' concludes Bylsma.
"It's the only way we are ever going to change the
trend. It's the only way that's ever going to