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TRUCE seeks to reduce drug use among youth through incentives

April 13, 2006|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, PA.

A group of Dickinson College psychology students were in Chambersburg this week to learn about TRUCE, a program that relies more on economic incentives than lectures to keep students drug-free.

The students, all members of a community psychology course, were asked to identify and study collaborative programs addressing specific community issues, said Meg Davis, an assistant professor of psychology.

"A lot of times, the most innovative interventions are things people come up with themselves," Davis said.

"I always believed more in the carrot than the stick," said businessman Charles Schlichter, who said he modeled Teens Resisting Unhealthy Choices Everyday after a Little Rock, Ark., program he learned of in the late 1990s.

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"The drug problem is a demand problem" and TRUCE provides an economic incentive for students not to use drugs, particularly those who are "sitting on the fence," Schlichter said.

TRUCE has enrolled about 1,700 of the Chambersburg school district's students between sixth and 12th grades, said Pat Massa, the program's coordinator. Begun in 2000 by the Greater Chambersburg Chamber Foundation, TRUCE offers students a photo identification card that is good for discounts at area businesses as the carrot for not using drugs.

The students who volunteer agree to take a drug test before receiving the card and to submit to random drug testing, Massa said. Parents also must sign the form for their children to participate, she explained.

If a student fails a drug test, or does not agree to take a test, the card is revoked, Massa said. During the course of the program, some students have declined to take part in the random retesting and a handful have come back with positive results, Massa said. Some of those results were for prescribed medications students were taking for medical conditions, she said.

Students with positive tests for drugs are referred for counseling through Manito Inc., Massa said, but test results are not referred to either the police or school officials for legal or disciplinary action, according to program guidelines.

Chambersburg Area Senior High School Principal Barry Purvis said it was his perception that drug use among students has not increased in the years since TRUCE started. TRUCE also places little administrative and no disciplinary burden on the schools, he said.

Students are introduced to the program at Chambersburg Area Middle School and Faust Junior High School where assemblies are held each year, Massa said. TRUCE assemblies are no longer done at the high school because students are introduced to it as early as sixth grade and can continue through their senior year.

One thing TRUCE was seeking by meeting with the college students was some fresh ideas, Massa said.

"We've got to grow with the kids ... They're going to give us some feedback on this," she said.

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