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Much ado about drugs

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“The (drug) problem is getting worse, not better. It’s only a matter of time before we have our first adolescent fatality.�

The comment was made by Robert Thorn, executive director of the Counseling Service of Addison County. He should know. As head of a county agency on the front lines of drug abuse and the personal crises that inevitably follow, Thorn has been watching the developing drug scene in Addison County from his front-row seat. So have Jim Hulfish, director of adult out-patient services for CSAC, and Ken Schoen, an adolescent substance abuse clinician with CSAC. All three tell a similar story in the lead article of today’s second installment in a two-part series on drug abuse published in this newspaper.

“I’d say in the past couple of years, the number of people coming in with opiate abuse and addiction has easily tripled,� Hulfish said in an interview with Addison Independent reporter John Flowers. “It’s really changed.  It’s much easier to access than it used to be… (and) usually, there are not happy endings.�

“I think the community is asleep on this, quite frankly,� Schoen adds.  “What I find consistently with parents is that they are oblivious to the problem until their kids are caught, or they’re at the emergency room.�

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Let those words and the eight stories written for this series serve as a wake-up call for county residents. More importantly, let’s respond aggressively and responsibly as a community. The goal, as this column suggested last week, is to chase the drug dealers out of the area, help users kick their habits, and establish a community network that makes the dealers realize it’s too risky a place to do their dirty business.

The first step in that process is to become informed and to realize that Addison County, this bucolic “land of milk and honey� as we’re known, has a growing drug problem.

The next step is to mobilize a community presence that can help law enforcement officers, school officials, counseling service representatives and other community leaders who are in positions to make a difference. What exactly does that mean?  This series of stories has already suggested a few roles community citizens can play:

• To help law enforcement officials, citizens are encouraged to be an extension of their eyes and ears, and react responsibly with information that seems suspicious. If you see someone stick a sawed-off shotgun in the trunk of their car late at night, you might want to get the license plate number and mention it to the police dispatcher. If you happen to overhear a conversation of drug dealings and you see them get into a vehicle, call in that license plate number, too. This won’t happen every day; maybe never for most of us. But if it does, don’t be afraid to report it. What none of us can afford to do is to remain uninvolved and pretend it’s none of our business. (At the same time, let’s not panic and burden police with tidbits of inconsequential information. We’re not suggesting folks spy on neighbors, just be alert to activities that are suspiciously drug-related.)

•  To help school officials, talk to your school-age children. Be aware of the physical signs of drug use, and be sure your children know that you’re not clueless. Talk about your own history; let them know you know the short-term and long-term effects of various drugs. If you’re not sure what to say, have them read the two interviews of former drug addicts trying to kick the habit, or any of the eight stories in the Independent’s series, and use that as the basis for a family conversation.

• Understand that drug abuse is not limited to heroin, crack cocaine or other substances that are typically considered “hard drugs.� Alcohol and marijuana are increasingly seen as a gateway to other drug use. Prescription pain killers, legally obtained, can become addictive when abused.

• Finally, tune in to the politics of drug use. In the federal arena, it’s disheartening to discover that President Bush has cut funding for school resource officers — preferring, instead, to finance tax cuts. It’s discouraging to know that federal programs that have previously helped towns with block grants (sometimes used for teen activities) are falling by the wayside because of a lack of funding. It’s sickening to know that federal and state funding of social service agencies like CSAC, and many others, are being cut because of the financial train wreck engineered by Bush and his team. Fight back by understanding that tax cuts are not always in the community’s best interests. Realize this is a community battle no individual can win. Know that we must pool resources and fund those who are most effective at combating drug abuse and drug-related crimes. Look favorably on tax increases if that’s what it takes to tackle this problem collectively.

At the local level, the political realm also includes providing outlets for our youth. That might mean active teen centers, skateboard parks,  winter recreation programs, a local bowling alley or more job opportunities for teens. It also means encouraging the state to recruit more doctors willing to treat citizens with drug addictions.

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What county residents can’t do, and have a good conscience, is let the problem slide. We can’t just read these stories, but fail to act. According to those with front row seats, we’ve been lucky, so far, that no county adolescent  — or, more personally, none of our children — has died of a drug-related incident. Let’s not wait for that to happen.

Let’s call for a community forum. Let’s listen to our police, drug-abuse counselors, state’s attorney and school officials and hear in person the extent of the problem and possible solutions. Let’s hear from the medical community about prescription drug abuse, and what precautions patients should take. If former addicts are willing to talk publicly, let’s hear their sobering tales. Let’s do what we can to build a community network that will make it tough for drug dealers, help those in need, and prevent others from traveling a road that’s hellish on the way down and even worse when — and if — they try to come back. 

It is not this newspaper’s habit to launch community crusades, but on this issue we’ll start the process. If you’re willing to help, email us at webmaster@addisonindependent.com, put “willing to help� in the subject line, and include any ideas you may have in the text. We’ll be in touch via email, or through this newspaper. In the meantime, read what you can and stay tuned.

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