"Gross!" Anatomy Lessons Become Standard Adolescent Drug Prevention

March 8, 1999

Eighty medical students from around the country will receive a crash course from University of Chicago medical students in the Adolescent Substance Abuse (ASAP) Prevention Program at this year's American Medical Student Association's (AMSA) convention to be held in Chicago.

Visiting medical students will be coached by University of Chicago medical students on ASAP's unique method of dissuading adolescents from using drugs. Then they will pay a visit to two Chicago area schools--the Joseph Sears School in Kenilworth, one of the wealthiest communities in America, and the John Hope Academy on Chicago's less affluent South Side. The medical students will deliver their anti-drug message with the help of normal and drug-damaged hearts, lungs, livers, and brains that serve as centerpieces for discussion of how drugs affect the body.

The collaboration will train the visiting medical students to implement similar prevention strategies in their own communities. ASAP uses a scientific approach to educate fifth through eighth graders about the effects of drug abuse by having them compare and contrast healthy and damaged organs.

"Kids are far more impressed by the blackened lung of a smoker than by all kinds of facts and figures," says Bryan White, a second-year University of Chicago medical student involved in the program. By using actual human organs, over medical students bring home to the children the long-term consequences of drug abuse. The program also has separate units that tie in strategies kids can use to identify pressures and build resistance skills.

Eighty visiting medical students will meet with the University of Chicago group at the Palmer House Hilton, 17 E. Monroe Street, for ASAP training on March 11, 1999. On March 12, 1999, the students will take their show on the road, visiting the two Chicago area schools.

"We choose schools on the South Side of Chicago and Kenilworth because although they represent opposite ends of the socio-economic spectrum. Both groups of students are at risk for drug use, says Charles Samenow, fourth year medical student and one of the developers of ASAP. "Our scientific approach offers a universal message that helps all kids understand the profound consequences of drug use."

"This is a truly wonderful program," said chief of child and adolescent psychiatry Bennett L. Leventhal, MD, at the University of Chicago and the group's faculty advisor.

ASAP has caught on nationally, he said, for several reasons. "The material is thoughtfully organized, specific and clear, yet not overtly judgmental, which makes it believable for children and adolescents. The presentation is appropriately paced and exceedingly graphic. And the presenters are knowledgeable and sincere yet committed and approachable, close enough in age--and attire--to relate well to middle-school students."

In 1997, the ASAP program was adopted by AMSA as the national model of school-based substance abuse prevention for medical schools around the country. In the Chicago area, the ASAP program and the partnerships it has formed have met with absolute success. During the past four years, University of Chicago medical students have reached nearly 3,000 fifth through eighth graders, and the program has been incorporated into many local schools' official substance abuse prevention curricula. The program recently won the 1998 Exemplary Prevention Program Awards from the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention.

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