Mel Berger, head of MK’s drug council, incites community dialogue
I am pleased to be the first guest blogger on this new site for Mount Kisco Partners in Prevention. My thirty years working in this community to mitigate the effects of substance use and abuse has given me a deep perspective on the problem. I can tell you that times have changed. In the early days of getting the Mount Kisco Drug and Alcohol Abuse Prevention Council up and running, there was little awareness of alcoholism and drug addiction in this community, and rehab and counseling for those in need was virtually nonexistent. We simply didn’t discuss such things openly back then.
Today we have a much-copied drug court system, some excellent resources to provide treatment to those who need it, and a more educated, aware police force that is equipped to deal effectively and compassionately with underage parties and the use of illicit drugs. Unfortunately though, drugs and alcohol are cheaper and more available these days. Parents are—statistically speaking—more tolerant of their children’s substance use and less willing to administer consequences.
When the council was awarded a Drug Free Community (DFC) grant by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration two years ago (our project named “Mount Kisco Partners in Prevention”), we joined the ranks of about 650 other towns across the country committed to the prevention of substance use and abuse by our youth. In its 17 years of operation, the federal DFC program has clearly established that involving the entire community in a solution-oriented approach is the most effective means of addressing local drug and alcohol problems. Note those critical elements: “entire community” and “solution-oriented.”
Our kids give us so much; we owe them, at a minimum, well-being and safety. As adults we bear the responsibility to remain vigilant about whatever in our community threatens that well-being. The fact that the use of alcohol in our high school is above the national average as reported by the ongoing Monitoring the Future study is an indicator that we have work to be done.
In the 80s and 90s the use of crack cocaine was rampant. Today we face a new epidemic in the scourge of heroin. The Daily Voice reports 90 deaths in the past year in Westchester County attributable to drug overdoses, a number of them involving heroin. Any number should be flat out unacceptable to us. Hard as it is to believe, there are now more drug overdose deaths each year in the U.S. than traffic fatalities.
Together we comprise the conscience of our community. So I ask you to examine your own conscience and reflect for a moment on your attitudes toward drugs and alcohol. Do you disapprove of underage drinking? If I told you a young person’s brain is still developing into the mid-20s, would you reconsider a permissive attitude? If I quoted the Surgeon General’s statistic that the highest incidence of alcohol dependence occurs in this country in the 18-to-24-year-old age group, and that kids form their drinking habits in high school and take them along to college, would you be more open to seeing the need for action and the detriment of complacency? Do you think heroin couldn’t ever affect your family? Do you realize that many current heroin users began their addiction with a legitimate prescription for pain opioids taken for a sports injury or a wisdom tooth extraction, and they “graduated” to the cheaper, readily available illegal drug when their pain management degenerated into addiction.
Consider whether there isn’t something more you as an individual can do to safeguard our young people from these potential harms—reviewing this new site in depth would be a good start—and post here your ideas on how we can keep the dialogue in Mount Kisco open and ongoing. Share how you plan to participate in the prevention effort in our community, whether it’s starting a conversation this week at your place of worship, chatting up the person next to you at the A&P checkout, or talking to your own children tonight about what they are seeing in their circle of friends regarding drug and alcohol attitudes and experiences. I’ll start the ball rolling here by committing to sending a link to this site to everyone in town I know. Now, what will you do to join me in addressing our problems and improving our community?