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New Anti-Drug Drive Slights Alcohol, Critics Say

January 05, 1988|BEVERLY BEYETTE | Times Staff Writer

Bob Hope is on the road again--as national chairman of Hope for a Drug-Free America, a new foundation with a goal of raising $100 million over the next three years, the bulk of it from corporate heavy hitters, to escalate and fine-tune the war against illegal drugs.

But with the formal campaign kickoff still a month away--Hope, James Stewart and other headliners will take the cause to the public with a sports and entertainment special on cable television on Super Bowl eve--some in the field of alcohol abuse are pointing out that by focusing on illicit drugs the program is ignoring America's No. 1 drug problem.

'Not Ignoring Alcohol'

"We are not trying to ignore alcohol," said Robin Prichard, executive director of the foundation, which is based in Washington. "Alcohol is a problem but there are some wonderful groups out there that are drawing attention to that issue."

The fight against illegal drugs has been a priority with First Lady Nancy Reagan and, Prichard said, it was the Reagans' concern that "sparked" this new effort, in particular the President's nationwide appeal in 1986 for the public to become involved.

Prichard emphasized, however, that neither the Reagans nor any government agency has a direct connection with Hope for a Drug-Free America, which is a private nonprofit foundation to be funded by corporations, individuals and other foundations.

Bob Hope, reached by telephone the day after his return from a USO jaunt to military bases overseas, said he was "enlisted" for the drug wars by Vic Maitland of the NFL Alumni Assn., a service fraternity of former pro football players. Hope has traditionally taken part in the group's "players of the year" dinner held each Super Bowl eve in the host city.

With the sports connection, Hope said, "I think it might have some effect. It's a problem that needs a lot of attention. When athletes get on television and talk to young people I think they do a lot of good." (The television special will include presentation of the National Football League players of the year, as well as a taped message from Reagan.)

While avoiding becoming embroiled in any controversy over illegal vs. legal drugs, Hope said, "It sure is worrying when you see what careers are ruined by this drug thing. I don't think you can do enough to fight drugs."

Douglas Lang, at NFL Alumni headquarters in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., expressed surprise that the effort is generating controversy. "I hate to be drawn into that," said Lang, who is handling media coordination. "It isn't that we're not aware of the (alcohol) problem, heavens. I think the general feeling is there is a better structure (in place) for handling it."

Prichard concurred, "There is some wonderful leadership in the alcohol field" but only "pockets of leadership" in the fight against drugs. "Everybody knows AA, and the National Council on Alcoholism. People know about Mothers Against Drunk Driving. These are very talented and committed people."

One nationwide effort, the National Partnership to Prevent Drug and Alcohol Abuse, spearheaded by Nancy Reagan and Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III, collapsed in June, 1986, eight months after start-up, when the Justice Department suspended a $1-million grant after an auditor raised questions about how $700,000 of this seed money had been spent.

Problem Teen-Age Drinkers

"I think anything that fights drugs is a wonderful concept," Candy Lightner, founder of MADD, said about the Hope foundation. "The problem here is what constitutes drugs--and I don't hear the word alcohol mentioned. Alcohol is illegal for those under 21 and there are approximately 4-million alcoholic or problem teen-age drinkers in this country."

Any anti-drug crusade that does not deal with alcohol "is not dealing with the real problem of drug abuse," Lightner added. She suggested that potential supporters may find this new umbrella organization a convenient way of rationalizing not having to support groups such as MADD, which are "too controversial. Many people drink and drive."

Christine Lubinski, the Washington representative for the National Council on Alcoholism, said the council staff has made preliminary inquiries as to whether its 200 affiliates might qualify for Hope grants and "we got a very clear message" that the thrust is illicit drugs. "We're not happy about it," she said.

She added: "It's our view that there's a great deal more good work done on (other) drugs than on alcohol. It's easier to focus on illicit drugs . . . the majority of parents, presumably, are not users of illicit drugs but 64% of adult Americans are users of alcohol."

Lubinski offered council statistics: 12 million Americans who have some problem with alcohol, including 4 million youngsters between 14 and 17. A recent survey in which 38% of high school seniors reported having had five or more drinks on some occasion during the prior two weeks.

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