ORANGE COUNTY IN BANKRUPTCY : Model Anti-Drug Program Might Fold

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Just two months ago, the Drug Use is Life Abuse program was a showcase for the county's anti-drug efforts.

Today, the nonprofit organization faces extinction because the bankrupt county on Jan. 6 withdrew its entire financial support--about $195,000 of the program's $300,000 budget for the rest of the year, ending June 30.

"If we can't raise money, the chances of (folding) are very real. It's a scary thought," Director Marilyn MacDougall said Monday.

The cutbacks have cost the group all nine of its paid staff, initially including MacDougall. A portion of about $100,000 from private donations that remains in the program's budget will pay MacDougall's salary while she seeks non-government funding to keep the program afloat.

Best known for flooding the county with bumper stickers bearing the "Drug Use is Life Abuse" slogan, the organization visited schools with its anti-drug message and provided information to other drug programs.

The group also forged a partnership with Disneyland, which created three characters to act as anti-drug ambassadors in schools.

In addition to the anti-drug efforts, the group also runs Project No Gangs to combat the county's rising gang problems.

All activities will be suspended while the group searches for funds.

Sheriff Grad Gates, who both founded the group and cut its funding, called the decision "one of the most difficult I've ever made in my life. I've seen all the good done for kids by the program in the past seven years and doing this was very hard."

Marcia Rudolph, a teacher and former Lake Forest mayor, said the county is making a mistake by eliminating funding for the program.

"I understand why they did what they did, and I know everyone is agonizing over this," said Rudolph, "but this program is about the future of our kids. Are we going to save $200,000 today and spend $2 million down the road?"

Gates said he was forced to make a choice between programs and officers.

"When it comes down to patrol cars or educating kids on drugs, we have to put patrols on the street," he said.

With MacDougall the only remaining staff member, Drug Abuse is Life Abuse activities have been suspended and all attention placed on raising money. MacDougall is applying for grants, planning fund-raisers and "basically looking for money from any legitimate source."

"Somebody kiddingly waved a dollar in front of me the other day," she said. "I grabbed it."

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