We are at war! The casualties are staggering. The human cost is immeasurable. This war is escalating at an alarming rate. It is infecting every town and village across the country. It is out of control in Suffolk County.
Every week, we read about another fatality among our young due to suicide, reckless decision making and heroin. How many lives have to be sacrificed before we are willing to take back our streets and our neighborhoods? Who else has to die? What other family has to bury a child due to this out-of-control epidemic on our streets?
Recently, I participated in a community forum sponsored by the Rocky Point PTA on the raging drug and alcohol problem in our larger community. Sheriff DiMarco made a compelling presentation about parental responsibility. He confirmed that the drug and alcohol epidemic is out of control in Suffolk County. He stated that all of our children are at-risk. He fielded a wide range of questions from the audience. Many parents indicated that law-enforcement know where drugs are being sold, but do not seem to act on complaints. Other parents expressed their frustration at the inconsistency within our larger community regarding holding people accountable for their poor decision-making. The sheriff also encouraged random drug testing. He urged parents to participate in this practice. He indicated that his department would provide the home drug testing kits free of charge. He indicated things are so bad in our county that no parent should think his or her child is above getting contaminated by this infectious disease.
A few hundred parents and students from Rocky Point gathered for that community forum. I was impressed with the cross-section of families and students that participated. The parents that were there were genuinely open and concerned about the safety of their children and their community. The students were also very impressive. They were very concerned about their peers, especially those who are engaged in risky behaviors.
As I sat and listened to the first presenter and the questions that were asked, I realized how frightened people are and how overwhelmed they feel. This war is destroying families in record numbers and paralyzing many school communities beyond description.
It still amazes me how many people are still in denial of the severity of this war and its casualties. This is not just a problem for law enforcement to confront, or a problem for our schools, or even a problem for houses of worship to confront. This is a problem that affects all of us who say we are caring human beings.
The drug and alcohol epidemic is no longer the social choices of a handful of fringe students. It is an epidemic that has infected the heart and soul of every community. If the truth be told, drug and alcohol misuse and abuse has no particular profile. It is not restricted to a particular age, race or socio-economic background. It has penetrated and infected every group without restrictions.
Heroin is everywhere. Students can cost-effectively buy heroin in every high school on both shores in Suffolk County. Prescription medication has become a big business among high school students. Some of our local young people refer to their high school campuses as the pharmacy.
A growing number of high school coeds see nothing wrong with underage drinking, especially if they are good students and respectful of authority. They acknowledge that they can get whatever kind of alcohol they want with little or no difficulty. They also admit that there are families that permit drinking parties at their homes, as long as no one drinks and drives.
If this is correct, there is something radically wrong with this picture. Sadly, I believe it is true. There are parents in our midst that believe drinking is a rite of teenage passage to adulthood. They feel that there is no way to stop it. So, their position is to try to keep our children safe and thus tolerate their drinking.
Unfortunately, we cannot tolerate or condone reckless, irresponsible decision making and behavior. The drug and alcohol epidemic is out of control because too many of us have minimized the seriousness of this infectious disease.
As parents, it is hard to say no and to set limits and parameters around our children s behavior. But we must. Parenting is probably the most challenging responsibility we face.
There are no manuals or courses that will provide us with all the answers and strategies to keep our children safe and out of harm s way.
We must have the courage to stand together and confront these issues with honesty and strength. If there are homes condoning underage drinking, we need to report them. If there are businesses that are serving underage teenagers, they need to be reported. Our schools cannot have double standards. If athletes abuse drugs and alcohol, they must be held accountable with the same standards as mainstream students. Our schools can no longer minimize the seriousness of this life-threatening epidemic.
These are tough economic times. Most school districts are going to cut back spending. Hopefully, they will not cut back or eliminate programs and support staff that are vital to our students well-being. Too often, when the economic landscape becomes hard to navigate, support programs and support staff seems to be the most expendable. That kind of thinking is dangerous and unhealthy for any school community.
Within days of each other, a young female high school athlete took her life and a young man battling addiction was found dead in a crack house on the North Shore. Two more families were forever destroyed by this war that we could be winning. Two more talented young people are casualties of a society that is out of control.
This is a war we can and must win, but one that demands every one of us to stand up and fight for the livelihood of all of our children. Their future is counting on us!