Debating the Tip Line Initiative

Parents, teachers, clergy and concerned community members are alarmed at the rate drug use is escalating across the country. What is even more troubling is the growing number of drug dealers that are infecting our ...

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Parents, teachers, clergy and concerned community members are alarmed at the rate drug use is escalating across the country. What is even more troubling is the growing number of drug dealers that are infecting our local communities.

Heroin is epidemic. Young people are being seduced into using this highly addictive drug, because now the rage is snorting it instead of shooting up with it. Many who work in the field of addiction claim that a growing number of teenagers are abusing bootleg opiate prescription drugs, including Vicodin and OxyContin, potent painkillers that can be gotten on the Internet without a prescription.

A growing number of schools across the county who are concerned about escalating drug use among junior high and high school students, have moved beyond drug and alcohol education. Some have hired drug counselors to work with students who are in recovery and are back in school. They are also creating prevention programs to help students from crossing over the line from misuse to abuse.

Other school districts have taken more radical measures such as bringing dogs in to search for drugs. Some local PTAs have sponsored evenings of awareness and encourage parents to use do-it-yourself drug kits to see whether or not their children are abusing narcotics.

Our local law enforcement has their hands full in trying to arrest this serious, escalating social problem. In recent months, the District Attorney's Office and police have cooperatively made a number of significant arrests in their war against drug dealers and drug use in our county. Their task is overwhelming. Clearly, they need the collaborative help of every aspect of our community.

In early April, Suffolk County police initiated a new crime stoppers cash reward program and hotline regarding people dealing drugs in our community. They have made an aggressive appeal to teenagers to call the hotline, if they know of drug dealers or have information about people dealing drugs in their community. The police are telling students that they can earn up to $500 in cash, if a tip leads to an arrest. They have also assured anyone who calls that their anonymity will be guaranteed.

This new approach aimed at engaging teenagers to assist the police in identifying local drug dealers has caused a growing debate on whether or not a tip line involving teenagers is safe and appropriate. Some parents have quickly endorsed this initiative, because it encourages students to get involved with an incentive.

Other parents are much more critical of this incentive and claim that it puts their children at risk, and possibly their family as well. Although they will concede the police department's good intentions, many feel it is entirely too dangerous to have their children get involved.

Drug dealing around the country is big business. Locally, it is big business and is very lucrative for those who deal. Unfortunately, in the drug community, they have a very tight network of informants. They are effective because they know how to protect their investment. Local gangs are also involved and live by their own violent rules.

Our teenagers are a vital resource in our fight against drug dealing and drug use. However, I would be cautious in offering a monetary incentive for information in this regard. Money should not be the driving force in cleaning up our neighborhoods of this trash. The present generation, unfortunately, is too self-centered and self-serving.

It probably would be more effective and definitely safer, if we could create a voluntary partnership with young people and adults in the community around drug dealing and the illegal use of substances. The motivation to get involved should be grounded in wanting to make a positive difference in our community and because it's the right thing to do, rather than a moneymaking opportunity.

Anonymity sounds good in principle, but unfortunately in practice, it too often falls grossly short. The drug business is a dangerous world. Too many teenagers think they're invincible. They could carelessly implicate an innocent person and/or fabricate a circumstance, because they are made to think that their identity could be concealed.

The problem in all of this is that very few people are able to keep confidences, when it's necessary. Teenagers are notorious for gossip and spreading half-truths. In this arena, violence is a way of life and people could be seriously hurt.

What seems to me to be a more effective approach is a team effort, grounded in the local community consisting of school, community, parents and teenagers working collectively together to address this infectious social concern. Until communities take a zero-tolerance on drug dealing, and illegal drug use, we will continue to see the epidemic grow.

Until parents accept the seriousness of this epidemic and are willing to hold their children accountable and themselves in this regard, drug dealing and reckless illegal drug use will continue to take lives senselessly in our community.

Hopefully the Tip Line Initiative will initiate a renewed conversation around this epidemic issue and call people to action. It might not be the most appropriate approach to addressing the drug dealing problem in our community. But if it opens the lines of communication between schools, families, law enforcement, teenagers and their parents, it's an important first step.

We must take the blinders off and realize that drug dealing is a serious social problem within our community. It is a sad commentary on some of our local high schools, when teenagers refer to them as the pharmacy.