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CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Kubasaki High School’s new drug and alcohol counselor has opened her door to students.

Although for now her bookshelves are empty and walls bare, Margaret Zohni, Adolescent Substances Abuse Counseling Services counselor, is settling in.

For the past week, she’s met with the high school staff and Marine Corps officials about what will be expected from the school’s first full-time drug and alcohol counselor.

She believes she comes equipped to handle whatever challenges are ahead. Her resume includes stints as counselor in a corporate employee assistance program and at American University in Cairo, Egypt.

“Each area of the world has its own unique drug of choice that’s readily available and abused,” she said. “In Cairo, it was hashish. In Ireland, it was mushrooms; people would go out and pick and eat some mushrooms and hallucinate for the day.”

According to a 1999 survey of Department of Defense Dependents Schools middle and high school students here, the drug of choice is alcohol. Fifty percent of high school students admitted consuming alcohol during the previous year; 36 percent of those students admitted to being drunk at least once.

Codeine-based cold medications readily available over the counter from Japanese pharmacies also were abused, the survey showed. The most popular is the codeine-ephedrine mix called Bron, also known as “Skittles” because the small pills look like the candy.

“I got some information about Okinawa over the Internet that I think will help in my settling in,” Zohni said Monday. “Anyplace you go, alcohol is going to be the drug of first choice, leading to other drugs depending on the individual’s situation. I’ll be dealing with different kinds of stress, perhaps, than I had on the university level, but the causes are usually the same — problems with adapting to new surroundings, new environments.”

Zohni follows Carol Schubeck, the counselor assigned to Kadena High School last year.

Each service is responsible for funding the drug and alcohol counselors who operate out of the high schools.

The program began with the Army in Europe in 1987 and slowly expanded in Europe and the Pacific, clinical supervisor Louis Valente said. Programs at Air Force and Navy bases overseas followed. Kubasaki’s funding by the Marines completes the cycle; now all four military services fund alcohol and drug counselors at their overseas schools.

“We currently staff 35 locations in Europe and the Pacific,” Valente said. “We have a clinical counseling staff of 60 persons.

“We take a three-prong approach. First, prevention education; second, identification and referral; third, assessment and treatment.”

In Japan, Adolescent Substances Abuse Counseling Services has counselors at Misawa, Zama/Atsugi, Sasebo and Yokosuka, he said.

Although independently staffed, the Kubasaki program is the responsibility of Marine Corps Community Services’ Substance Abuse Counseling Center.

John L. Velker, program director, said officials realized years ago there was a gap in providing services for all servicemembers and their families living on Okinawa.

“We have programs for our people in uniform, but nothing for the kids,” he said. “The schools had counselors, but no one trained in drug and alcohol abuse. There was no office that dealt specifically with the problems on the school level.”

There was little in place to identify teens heading for trouble, he said. And by the time they developed full-fledged drug and alcohol problems, there was little overworked child psychologists or guidance counselors could do.

Many teens were sent to Hawaii for drug-abuse treatments. Others were sent to the United States under early-release-of-dependents programs.

Part of Zohni’s job will be to work closely with school and base officials to identify problems before they become that bad.

However, Velker emphasized, establishing a counselor at Kubasaki does not mean the school has a growing drug problem.

“This is not in response to any significant problem at Kubasaki,” Velker said. “It was just the time for us to start here.”

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