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Ronan Murder a 'Teachable Moment'—Letter

Resident calls on town leadership to teach Ronan murder.

Editor's note: Donna Dudley presented this letter to the Board of Selectmen Tuesday. After hearing it, we thought it would be appropriate to present to the community as a whole. It has been edited only for format.

I bring an unorthodox subject to you tonight. As a town, I believe we have a monumentally important, teachable moment in front of us.  I’d like to talk about drugs.

There seem to be a lot of misconceptions out there about who ‘does drugs’ and who doesn’t. I believe the public needs to become better informed about this complicated problem and to be better informed by the town about how you are addressing it and the ways in which the average person/parent can help, beyond the obvious.

I include alcohol in my definition of drugs.  I can tell you exactly what kind of student does or experiments with drugs & alcohol:

  • Honor roll students\Average students
  • Athletes/ non-athletes
  • Kids that have been thru Dare & Decisions
  • Kids that are natural risk takers
  • Kids that are struggling with their sexuality/ kids that are not
  • Kids that are struggling with stress, anxiety and/or depression/ kids that don’t struggle with anything
  • Kids that are easily influenced by peers, / and kids that are not

Good and decent kids make bad decisions, use questionable judgment, get involved in things over their head. Part of the reason they do this is because they are teenagers. I believe It is our responsibility as a community to help them—to try and minimize the harm they may do to themselves and others, to provide avenues for them to redirect, and to always be hopeful for them, when they cannot be for themselves.  

These are not throw away lives. Examples abound of kids who struggle with some of these things, but manage to pull it together in young adulthood.

I believe the town leadership, collectively, has an opportunity and a duty, that arises from our recent tragedy. The shooting death of Joe Ronan. I am heartsick over this. It feels to me as though the entire community is heartsick over this.  We need to take this tragedy and do something that makes a positive difference and not just talk about it in hushed-tones with in our respective cliques.

My short  list of “Leadership” would include:

  • Board of Selectman
  • RCASA
  • School Committee
  • Every school principal in Reading
  • Law Enforcement

For example: are the kids going to start high school without any discussion of this within school? Will they be given any opportunities for processing or dialogue between themselves in a safe school environment? Will this real life example be incorporated into the Decisions class which every freshman is required to take?  If not, why not?

How is the leadership of Reading planning to use this tragedy as a catalyst to shine a greater light on the issues of youth drug experimentation, use, abuse, etc., and what are we collectively, as a town, doing to address it, and to garner greater involvement from the general public? 

Are we going to squander this teachable moment?

tep2011 August 25, 2011 at 12:05 AM
(CONTINUED)... what these programs should really being teaching RMHS students about is what's really perilous to them. I don't remember learning a thing about Percosets, and how highly-addictive they are, or how once you can't afford them you turn to heroin. I don't recall learning about what "dope-sickness" is, and how it's comparable to a month(s) long-bout with the flu, right down to night sweats, depression, vomitting, etc. So, I do believe more focus on the hard(er) drugs will not only be more useful, but by not condeming drinking and smoking to be absolute evils, teachers/parents/administrators will actually gain more credibility in the eyes' of these students, because by the time they are told "how evil beer and weed is", most already know that you can in fact use either IN MODERATION without ruining your life. And with that, the credibility of these programs goes right out the window... My last point to Donna's letter- is that while it is important to have teachers, police, coaches etc on board with these preachings to our students- it all starts with the parents! Be honest with your kids, scare them about the truths of hard drugs, and even threaten them if you need to. And, let them work for their money! The less money they are given, the more hesistant they'll be to hand over wads of cash for drugs. I hope my words are taken into consideration, Reading has lost too many kids to this nonsense over the past few years, and it needs to stop!
Erin Calvo-Bacci August 25, 2011 at 01:27 AM
Denise thanks for sharing the tip line.
renny August 25, 2011 at 05:24 AM
I wanted to highlight tep2011's comments in case they were lost in all the activity. I don't agree with everything in the post, but I do commend the courage required to share the realities of what teens face today. Today's drug war is different. The widespread availability and highly addictive nature of prescription drugs have changed the game. Few people realize that prescription pain pills like Vicodin, Percocet, and Codeine contain the same underlying drug as Heroin. To kids, a drug in a pill bottle that has been prescribed looks nothing like a needle. An assumption is made that it can't be that bad. But they are just as dangerous.
Mommie Dearest August 25, 2011 at 02:11 PM
I'm totally in agreement with tep2011--kids are doing these drugs much more than we adults either realize or want to admit. I'd like to see this "town" ADMIT IT (from the AD to the police force). Unfortunately, I've had dealings with both and was shocked by the lack of action. There is a fair amount of young adults with drug-related police records still on the street! What does it take to wake up and take action?! In my dreams, the loss of precious Joe Ronan will be the catalyst that makes the adults in this town take action. I would love to see rehabilitation offered to these scores of young people, not recrimination. I think they get started young and then see "no way out". Let's try to give them a way out!
highflyer August 25, 2011 at 03:08 PM
Mommie Dearest, I found your post a little confusing and ambiguous. What dealings have you had with the police and the AD? What action did you recommend? These young adults with drug related records...walking our streets? Rehabilitation for these scores of young people?
Hammertime August 25, 2011 at 03:55 PM
Its not just the young people folks. It is an epidemic. Majority of the addicts are in their late teens to mid 20's. There is a larger amount of people who are gettign hooked on opiates namely perc 30's which started out eith a legit injury and prescription, but them they start to Dr. shop and bounce from one ER to another seeking meds to feed their habits. It is no coincidence with the increas in car breaks and house breaks in our town. The police know it and need our support. The officials in town just dont want to acknowldge it and cause alarm and panic. Well the bell and alarm are ringing loud now!
renny August 25, 2011 at 05:06 PM
With respect, hammertime, it's a disease, not a habit. The complex and difficult reality about addiction is that it strikes some and not others. Studies have shown that the brain reacts differently from the very first exposure to alcohol/drugs in those predisposed to substance addiction than in others who engage in recreational use. It tends to be a disease that begins developing in adolescence but impacts all ages. This is what makes it so complex. If everyone suffered the same severe consequences as those who become addicted, abstinence or prevention would be simple. Example: everyone knows not to drink poison chemicals because it will kill you, so very few people do it. But because more than a few people get away with alcohol/drug use without becoming addicted, it fuels experimentation. People who become addicted never thought they would. Given all this complexity, I'm a supporter in prevention first but early intervention second. If people are going to experiment with drugs/alcohol, we should acknowledge that some are going to be affected differently. Tthere needs to be a path to help them. And help them early. I'd like the science to be exposed. Just like we educate about other diseases that have predispositions, like skin cancer. We all try to avoid the sun, but those with fair skin should particularly be careful and anyone noticing signs of skin cancer should see a doctor. Signs of addiction should be treated by a doctor early.
Cheryl Buono August 25, 2011 at 05:11 PM
Huh? If these young adults are walking the streets with records, then the police are doing their job. Where's the lack of action? Blame the courts, if they are on the street. You don't want them on the street but you don't want recrimination(?)
Hammertime August 25, 2011 at 06:54 PM
We can intellectualize the discussion if you wish, I am very clear on what addiction is Vs habit. It is all a play on words. If you are unfortunate to be in the grasp of this horrible vise of using/abusing opiates, alcohol or other substances it is horrible. What people dont understand is that it is dangerous just like chemicals and does kill. Not just by violence but by respiratory depression ie.. Overdose. It is not like smoling pot, it is much more severe. Individuals get hooked after 1-2 tries.The science is out there people need to be educated and want the education. Families and our community leaders need to stop being in denial. I am so grateful that we have this opportunity to talk about this devastating epidemic. Thanks Patch!
kerry blomquist August 25, 2011 at 07:08 PM
The epidemic is certainly not limited to Reading however we have a serious problem here with denial. I am an ER nurse who is heartbroken over the amount of 15-60 year olds who are drug addicted. I always ask them to tell me their story and the most common scenerio is.....started with percocet or oxycontin at high school partys and was forced into heroin when either the oxy suppy dried up or the cost became to much. Opiates are this addictive. Parents know the signs to look for and stop thinking that this does not happen to good kids. It can happen to the nicest,smartest kid. It happens to people from good families . No town or city is excluded. Talk to your kids about it and don't think it cant happen to you. Everyone needs to be acountable,this has to be a team approach. It takes a village to raise a child.
renny August 25, 2011 at 09:04 PM
completely agree. not sure why my last post disappeared, but I wanted to thank you for your contributions.
Dave Miskinis August 25, 2011 at 09:48 PM
Posts disappear whenever anyone "flags" them as innapprporiate. This is a highly censored site.
HM August 25, 2011 at 09:58 PM
Some of mine are gone too. It's the ones that don't want the truth out there that are deleting the posts. This is why the problems will continue. People want to continue living in their little bubble.
Marissa August 26, 2011 at 04:39 PM
Parents, wake up, look at your kids. Look at their eyes. Ask where they are going at night. Stay up and check them out when they come home. Are they slurring their words? Are their pupils dilated? It starts at home! We have high school kids that have lost accolades and leadership spots at the high school due to their alcohol, drug, driving or stealing infractions. But guess what, their parents are not willing to stand up to the kid and get them on the right track. They help the kid get out of the mess and then simply move on as if the problem is gone. Guess what, the kid is doing the same thing! 9th grade is way too late for any classes or discussions. I know you do not want to hear this folks, but parents and educators need to start talking about this stuff in elementary school. If a parent is foolish enough to choose not to let their child participate in the discussion at the elementary schools then that is their choice. (CONTINUED)
Marissa August 26, 2011 at 04:40 PM
(CONTINUED) Parents, guess what, you need to stay home on Friday and Saturday night. The minute you are gone, guess what, the party is at your house. My teen knows where the parties are every weekend. He tells me who has parents that are away. What is worse are the parents that are home but in bed asleep while their kids are downstairs drinking and doing drugs. I am sorry to tell you all - you have to PARENT! Parents, are you setting a good example? Nothing was worse than going to an end of year party for a kids sports team and the parents were drinking! We were there to celebrate a great season for 8 year olds and the beer and wine were being served. This is unnecessary folks. Thanks to tep2011 for his comments. It starts with the parents and parents need to step up and communicate, watch, communicate, watch and stay home! Sorry, but we need to take control. We talk about this and the stupidity of the drugs on a regular basis in our house. We are trying! Are you?
GM August 26, 2011 at 08:13 PM
I agree Mary. Check out my earlier post. Providing students the skills and knowledge to deal with the behaviors that are very prevalent in society today, must begin earlier. And it's not just about drugs and alcohol. Unfortunately, there are many treacherous issues and circumstances that are part of society. Suicide, bullying, unhealthy relationships.....these are issues that our young people need help to deal with early on in life. Helping parents to recognize and respond to these issues is also a critical aspect.
Cheryl Buono August 27, 2011 at 03:13 PM
It sure seams like a lot of the hockey players go to prep school after high school. Is that to work on their game or finally work on academics?
HM August 27, 2011 at 03:21 PM
Cher, It can be either or both. My son played junior hockey, and had offers from prep schools to come play a year with them. They have what is called a PG ( post grad) year. We decided that since he had excellent grades at RMHS and since he got an academic scholarship to college, that we would forgo the prep school and start him on his life in college.
Alex T. August 28, 2011 at 06:27 PM
That speech is in June and its a regular joke considering that he and most of the other coaches dont really take it seriously and they look to enforce the bare minimum that MIAA requires them to suspend a player rather then setting a good life lesson for these kids. There are already a few coming into this senior class that have got the light slap on the wrist. And this AD did indeed claim Reading didnt have a drug problem at that banquet as a prior poster did note.
Cheryl Buono August 28, 2011 at 08:54 PM
KF, I'm happy to hear of your son's success. It's nice to read a good story in these pages. Thanks for the explanation - having attended high school and some university overseas I'm not familiar with the relationship of academics with athletics. We only had club sports that were in no way associated with the school - just for excercise and enjoyment. Scholarships not needed as much as university tuition is low - less than 1000 euro per year. No where near the financial burden as in the the USA. That will be changing europe goes broke.
Charles August 30, 2011 at 09:01 PM
It's funny that the kid who made the comment was also a kid who did drugs in HS
Cheryl Buono September 02, 2011 at 09:58 PM
I don't find it funny, I find it a cry for help!
Christine September 16, 2011 at 03:30 AM
I have received estimates of appoximately 100 Heroin & Oxycontin addicts that live in Reading from people who are in a position to know. That number translates into a human crime wave. Identify and target these people and a lot of incidental crime will stop. These people commit multiple crimes every day. It is not uncommon for one of these addicts to commit 20-30 B&E of MV's in a single night. Stop blaming the AD for kids that drink and smoke a little pot. It is a problem but pales in comparison to the real issue no one here wants to talk about. Target the Heroin & Oxycontin addicts.... www.justice.gov/ndic/pubs44/44849/44849/p.pdf .....Your own government has indicated that Middlesex County is a High Drug Trafficking Area. You do not live on an Island. Volunteer to work on getting Federal Grants to help address the issue. Over the past ten years this Municipality has created a climate for this problem to thrive. Now the "Two Headed Monster" is rearing it's ugly head. The cops are driving around with Sharps containers in their patrol cars. When you see the cops being called to pick up needles constantly it's indicative of a much bigger problem. A problem of which most of you think is experimental or recreational use. It simply is not. Your well intentioned but your efforts need to be redirected.
AnonLikeU September 16, 2011 at 05:14 PM
Chris, thanks for the link. It wouldn't work as you have it, but if you just use www.justice.gov/ndic/pubs44 you can find it. I think we need an immediate law enforcement/community strategy to deal with the issues you raise and the rising crime associated with it. Concurrently, every addict starts out as an experimenter and alcohol is also a gateway drug, therefore we can't let up on efforts to reduce experimentation/recreational use.
HM September 16, 2011 at 06:14 PM
The kids in the high school are using oxycontin and in some cases heroin. They get hooked on the oxys and then find that heroin is a lot cheaper so they switch. Drug use at the high school age isn't limited to pot and drinking anymore. I know some kids that have already been to rehab for addiction to oxycontin.
A. Horch September 19, 2011 at 01:36 AM
Another lacrosse player to join the track team to serve out his punishment. The parents are thrilled that the AD provided this option. Parents, How's this a lesson? I don't fault the AD on this one. How about some community service as part of the minimal MIAA penalty instead of this sham?
vaccaro_resign September 21, 2011 at 04:16 AM
A. Horch - how do you not fault the AD? While the parents certainly could and should have pulled their son, the point is that the decision should never even reach them. If the AD were doing his job properly, and supporting the intended guidelines (not loopholes) of the MIAA, this student would serve his punishment immediately. The current AD has his priorities completely out of line with what best serves our children and community. Do you really think the Ronan family still cares that Reading won the Super 8 in 2008? Let's get our priorities in order. The AD makes ridiculous concessions and arrangements, particularly for kids who have the potential to bring him some type of athletic glory. He needs to be removed IMMEDIATELY and replaced with someone who understands the danger of letting violence and drug use continue with no consequence for the elite Reading athletes. They are setting the tone for the entire high school. Have them removed from their teams immediately for whatever length of time their offense deserves, and mandate that the time be spent doing community service. The real trick would be getting the AD to apply that rule unilaterally. The current AD would never risk a championship, but that needs to change if we have any hope of addressing these issues.
Karl Weld September 21, 2011 at 04:56 AM
How about Reading adopt some stricter guidelines than the MIAA. Apparently the state guidelines leave a lot to be desired in terms of sending the right message to our STUDENT-athletes. Is there some reason our School Committee can't pass a policy with some sharper teeth in it than the apparent short-comings of the MIAA "standards"?
AnonLikeU September 21, 2011 at 12:40 PM
We need all the stakeholders to be in alignment with what the community wants. If there are concessions being made for athletes, (and I would say that letting a lacrosse player 'sit it out' in track for the season is a concession), that would need to stop, because it undermines and dilutes the wishes and desires of the community. This is where the school system leadership needs to do its part.
A. Horch April 12, 2013 at 01:34 AM
Nice letter. Too bad, nothing ever came of it.

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