Colchester first selectman hosts roundtable discussion about substance abuse
By Merja H. Lehtinen - ReminderNews
Colchester - posted Tue., Jan. 14, 2014
A roundtable discussion that included community leaders, family members impacted by drugs, and concerned citizens addressed the issue of illegal and prescription drugs on Jan. 9 at Colchester Town Hall. First Selectman Gregg Schuster called the meeting after several parents and town department heads, including the Youth Services director, brought the rising concern to his attention. More and more people of all ages are dying suddenly of drug overdoses, he said.
About 50 people in the audience listened to perspectives offered by officials of regional social services organizations, the police, schools, clergy, fire department EMTs, and parents. A father, who said his own daughter was an addict, pleaded with police to "arrest drug users" to get them into rehab. He acknowledged when his daughter did get help from an out-of-state rehabilitation program, he was appalled to learn five other young girls from Colchester were simultaneously enrolled.
Another parent wanted to ban drug paraphernalia, including tiny scales, bongs, pipes, and rolling papers from being sold at convenience stores in town. She asked the store owners “come to the table.”
Drugs are not a problem for just the schools, the police, or any one department, emphasized Schuster. It is a community-wide issue that merits open discussion in order to determine what the community standard is or should be. There were many varying opinions brought forth at this roundtable discussion, which Schuster said was just a first step in a broader conversation on how to deal with drugs in town.
Pastor Shirley Ellis of the Abundant Life Christian Fellowship Church said she believes the problem is "lack of faith, and the solution is Jesus Christ." Ellis said she knows it may not be "politically correct" to state it that way, but she believes it is the root of the problem.
Youth Services Director Valerie Gaeto pleaded with parents to set a standard, starting with avoiding alcohol consumption at home and controlling prescription drugs, which are often taken directly from home medicine cabinets, misused, or even sold.
Superintendent of Schools Jeffry P. Mathieu emphasized the positive. A broad age range of students from fifth grade through high school seniors are taught a certified and comprehensive drug and alcohol prevention curriculum that works, he said. Mathieu read highlights of the comprehensive curriculum. This has led to a nearly 95 percent acceptance rate by seniors this year at Bacon Academy to commit to a substance-free, safe environment for a Senior Night and possibly other social events. That participation rate is high even among the growing numbers of schools that opt for drug- and alcohol-free “lock-in” events annually, Mathieu said.
Town resident Sgt. Robert Suchecki of the Colchester Police Department, who volunteers on various youth initiatives and as chairman of Youth and Social Services Commission, emphasized the need to recognize that, as with all criminal matters, civil rights matter. Like all law enforcement officers and public officials, he takes an oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution and the Constitution of the State of Connecticut, he said. The crisis has spurred some to call for less concern with the civil rights in lieu of tough consequences for illegal behaviors. Other citizens' groups nationwide are seeking to circumvent the due process, search and seizure, and equal rights clauses of 4th and 14th Amendments in order to go after drug traffickers, users and dealers more aggressively, he said. Still others seek to decriminalize marijuana use and possession, as prison populations increase and the demand for marijuana used for medical purposes grows. Medical marijuana, a controlled substance, is far different from street types contaminated with other mind-altering and dangerous chemicals, Suchecki pointed out.
The civil rights issues have far-reaching consequences for society, said Suchecki. The answer, Suchecki and others emphasized, is at the community and family level, to prevent use, and to set a tone of acknowledging and avoiding the pitfalls of substance abuse.