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Vision, Not Politics, Needed to Address Drug Problem

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By Lowell L. Kalapa

The issue of drugs has taken front and center attention of communities across the state as the state has been dubbed the “ice” capital of the nation.
Elected officials have jumped on the bandwagon, as well they should as it is their constituents who live in these concerned communities. But it seems that the issue has been politicized with various groups of elected officials trying to claim the issue as their territory. At one point it seemed there would be multiple “summits” called by federal, state legislative and administrative officials. Fortunately, it appears that some common sense has prevailed as it seems there will be just one drug “summit” instead of three.
But listening to all the political rhetoric it appears that elected officials will come up with the same old strategies that will require pouring millions of dollars into programs that will appear to address the immediate problem but fail to address the systemic underpinnings.
Communities concerned about the drug problem, like elected officials, can only see the “getting rid” of the drug users and dealers as the solution of the problem. Arrest those drug users, throw the book at drug dealers and the problem will go away or so communities and elected officials believe. But if alternatives to drug use are not provided, what is there to prevent others from substance abuse?
Perhaps one of the foremost issues here is the lack of a vibrant economy. Not enough jobs or good paying jobs has to be one of the underlying reasons for the rise in substance abuse. Let’s start with the family. When parents have no alternative but to work two or three jobs to put a shelter over their heads and food on the table, who is around to mentor the children let alone know what their children are doing or where they are?
Okay, let’s say that’s a problem that can’t be solved immediately as elected officials have been trying for more than a decade to turn the economy around. But let’s assume that the economic situation won’t change overnight. What else can be done to keep kids from substance abuse?
Has anyone asked what sorts of activities kids have to occupy their time? Okay, there is school. But given the high truancy statistics in some schools, one has to ask why those students skip classes. Could it possibly be that the class work is just not presented in an interesting an engaging manner? This one-size fits all education system that has been the norm for the last forty years just does not reach kids today who have been raised on television and video games. Teaching out a textbook is boring for many kids and perhaps educators need to rethink how the basics are taught. Memorizing rules or sets of numbers may have no relevance to kids whereas seeing how the sum of a number of minutes is crucial to the production of a video that fits into a half hour segment may be relevant.
And what about after school? If there is nothing to do, doesn’t it make sense that substance abuse might be an attractive amusement? Providing healthy activities for kids once they are out of the traditional classroom is a positive alternative. And it doesn’t necessarily have to cost money. Parents taking turns coaching a soccer team or taking a group on an excursion doesn’t have to cost money.
And that is an important point, if substance abuse is a community issue, then it is the community that has to be a part of the solution. Partnering with others in the community, pooling resources, and volunteers insures that those who are concerned have a stake in the solution.
If addressing the drug problem is to be successful, the effort must take a dramatic turn away from traditional responses. The solution is not having government solve the problem. Not only does government have a poor track record in solving these kinds of problems, but the solution has to have its genesis in the community.
If all elected officials do is spend money on a variety of programs and projects without the involvement of the community, then the community will sit back and expect government to do it all for them. This strategy is doomed to failure. Like one community leader noted, just have the city build more parks so kids have a place to play. That is not a solution that will work, instead of a play area, an idle park will be another great place to deal in drugs.
As the drug summit convenes this next week, hopefully community and political leaders will not resort to the tried and true spending of tax dollars, but come up with creative ways that truly address the problem.

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