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Denial May Be At Core of Reading’s Drug Problem

Parents talk candidly at forum on substance abuse.

About 200 members of the Reading community gathered at the Hawkes Field House Wednesday night to talk about drug use in the community.

The crowd ranged from students in high school to town officials to grandparents. They clustered around white-topped tables and spoke about how drugs are impacting the community and what its root causes might be.

In the interest of not disrupting those conversations, we promised not to attach names to residents' comments.

From Reading's Residents

One woman told a table of three other mothers that she started using drugs at the age of 14 when she was a student at Reading Memorial High School.

Another mother at another table told her conversation partners that she has been engaged with the issue of drug use in Reading for years—since several of her children’s friends overdosed and died before the formation of the Reading Coalition Against Substance Abuse six years ago.

Another mother said that she had heard that the recent introduction of breathalyzers at school dances had lead more youths to use pills that wouldn’t set off the machines.

“Kid’s can get around anything,” she said.

Where are they getting them? Well, new communication methods—particularly social media—said a mother who pined for the days when parent’s would answer the phone and pass it to their children when the caller asked for them.

The groups crystallized their ideas on “bumper stickers” and idea maps that organizers assembled on boards at the front of the room. Their slogans ranged from “smashes the myth of safety in the suburbs” to “cutting lives short” to “correlation between drugs and crime.”

One sticker read, simply, “denial”—an idea that ran through much of the sentiment expressed Wednesday night.

From Reading's Leaders

“One thing that we know for sure is that there are no simple answers and no quick fixes,” said Selectman Steve Goldy.

At the end of the event, Deb Gilburg, the master of ceremonies, told the group that there was no way they were going to solve the issue in two hours.

“If you feel unsettled, good,” she said. “It will keep your attention.”

Leaders from the group will continue the conversation Oct. 6 when the Reading Coalition Against Substance Abuse holds its annual meeting at the Fine and Performing Arts Center—leading up to a panel discussion on Oct. 18.

But Selectman James Bonazoli asked what comes after that—after the fervor stirred by the deaths of and fades. The energy around the issue of drug use and abuse, he said, needs to endure past the third meeting.

“This is too important for this to just twinkle and die,” he said.

Charles September 22, 2011 at 04:00 PM
I guess I am confused......I think the goal of the town is to protect the minors (HS kids and under). What place does the town have in "controlling" what adults do? focus on the HS environment and keep that safe and drug free. If Ronan and Fischer want to be drug dealers which they where, That is a police issue and there is nothing a community can do about it. The goal should be to educate them and hope we, schools and parents, have done there job and they make good decisions when they are out in the real world. I think that is done by showing the kids if you do drugs then you get punished to the max. - no sports, no drama, no band. Yes it is not just athletes but band and drama kids also.
John September 22, 2011 at 04:09 PM
I'm glad to hear that last night's meeting went well and that people are beginning to realize that the problems that affect our town's children effect all of our residents. I am in my early 30's and have no children yet. But I do read the Patch and The Chronicle and have seen the increase in crime (house breaks) and drug related activity ( the recent deaths that have made local headlines, but also the increase in the amount of times the police have found people strung out on heroin or used needles on the ground, etc.) Like any other place in the USA, Reading doesn't have a fence around it so we cant help who happens to stroll into town and commit a crime. However, having known a few addicts myself ( sorry to say that I have known a few), I can tell you that these people do not have any particular characteristics that would lead you to know that they are addicts. The friends of mine (some are former friends now) all were college educated, working men who began to use percocet or vicodin socially at parties to get a better "buzz" when drinking. Then they were introduced to Oxycontin, and the rest is history. They became distant, unreliable, and appeared sluggish and tired often. The lies started to pile up and excuses about missing events, plans broken, etc. These people all knew one another... it only takes one person to get his friend, cousin, etc to try whatever he/she is doing and then they can become addicted also.. and the cycle continues to spread like cancer.
John September 22, 2011 at 04:24 PM
Moreover, I feel that education needs to begin at home and at school to supplement that. The town should always stay vigilant about this.. even when ( hopefully) things get better. Just like a terrorist attack, always be on the lookout and be prepared to notice the warning signs of a person who has become an addict. The recent robberies are obviously in direct correlation to the upswing in drug use. Kids cant afford drugs like oxycontin and they build up such a tolerance to them that they eventually can have a $100-$200 dollar a day habit. They will steal from anyone, family, work, whoever... just to get a feeling that eventually becomes their new "normal" they stop producing endorphins naturally and need to pills just to function.
John September 22, 2011 at 04:25 PM
My recommendation is to get the kids educated on this new threat as young as middle school. Unfortunately, with the technology nowadays, today's middle schooler knows more than my generation when in middle school in the 90's. All it takes is a click of the mouse and basically any question can get answered instantly, whether that question is about George Washington crossing the Delaware or about sex and drugs. It's all out there. We need to keep our own medications locked up and out of the reach of anyone who it is not prescribed for ( these medicines are like leaving a loaded gun in your home nowadays... just an accident waiting to happen. I'm telling you, I've see what happens when these people become addicts, it's like something out of a movie, and they can be anyone, rich or poor, black or white, old or young, it doesn't matter. They get a taste of the opioids and they want more. Some can quit but a lot of others cant without help. The kids who are selling these drugs to them are the ones who need to be targeted, Most of whom I assume are just selling to fuel their own addiction. Get the kids in school to talk, maybe even set up a tip line. If the police can get to the suppliers, the users will become very obvious as they will most likely become very irritated at home and will be actively looking for a new local source to get them their fix. This is where parents need to pay attention... if your kid is acting strange, you have to ask about drugs,unfortunately.
Hammertime September 22, 2011 at 06:07 PM
The meeting was a great starting point and I agree with you John, Addiction does not discriminate what side of town you are from. I see people who are addicted and they come from good families often that you would traditionally not think be affected by this horrible epidemic. Most of the individuals at this event last night have no clue what they are up against who this problem. That being said I am glad that at least we are making the effort to have dialogue, but talk is cheap we need action! Until then there will be more robberies and break in and deaths from opiates and drugs.
Kat S September 22, 2011 at 08:09 PM
With no disrespect to the high school decisions teacher/program, I think the messgae would carry far more meaning if it was coming from someone the students could relate to and not an older adult. Kids don't trust or believe adults....they want street credible people to tell them the truth. Decisions should consider have AA, NA, Alanon, Prison speakers.....those are the folks that can tell kids what the future holds if they chose the wrong path.....teaching them the chemical make up of a cigarette is useless.....If you want the truth ask any current or past student who took decisions what would work....what we have or something more in your face?
AnonLikeU September 22, 2011 at 08:33 PM
While there are some parts of this problem that we have little influence over, we should try to recommit to strategies and changes to our own habits and behaviors that are proven to make a difference. Thought you all might want to know that September 27 is "Family Dinner Day". A report was just released by the National Center for Addiction & Substance Abuse at Columbia University. Good reading. http://www.casacolumbia.org/templates/ChairmanStatements.aspx?articleid=654&zoneid=31
Eileen September 23, 2011 at 12:09 PM
We had a "Say No to Drugs" program run by the schools and the Reading police in town for years. It started in the elementary schools and it was very effective.. I know because my son participated and it was an important step in prevention.He still remembers the lessons learned there. Bring it back!!
Chris September 23, 2011 at 02:35 PM
The bottom line is that parents need to stay on their kids backs about this. Now that prescription meds have made their way into high school, this has to become the #1 topic of anti-abuse conversations.. above alcohol. Seriously, alcohol and marijuana still need to be addressed, but these prescription pain medications and heroin need to be discussed the most. As much as people would like to avoid thinking of heroin, it's a fact that it's in our town and oxycontin has the same addictive effect. Oxycontin will ruin these kids, ruin them. They need to know not to touch pills, period. Even the smartest kids, and a friend of mine went through medical school addicted to them, can make the mistake and get hooked. It's a sad reality that tears apart families because these addicts become shells of their former selves, all because they decided to try pain medicine. 15 years ago we only had to worry about drinking and driving and smoking marijuana. You cant smell pills on a kid's breath, and by the time they are addicted and you find out (typically because they have stolen money from you, lost friends, etc) , it's a lifelong battle for them to stay clean. You can scare your kid into never drinking and driving if you catch them, but once they are hooked on prescription pills, the reality is they could care less what you say, their bodies need the opium to function and they will do whatever it takes to get more.. unless they get put on suboxone and go to therapy for years.
Barbara September 23, 2011 at 05:51 PM
I attended the Reading World Cafe community discussion on 9/21. It was excellent. A great format to explore and further define the enormity and complexity of this issue in our community. While there were more than 100 in attendance, an issue as important and high stakes as this should have attracted more interested participants. I do not mean that as criticism, but more of a call to action to spread the word and increase involvement in the next two sessions and beyond. This is not an issue to wait and be updated about. This is an issue that needs active participation from community members if we are going to really understand it and then make progress. By becoming actively involved we raise awareness, create a sense of urgnecy, and send a message to our children that this is important and we are committed to positive change. Substance use and abuse should not be considered a “cultural norm” , and unfortunately for many of our youth it is.
Barbara September 23, 2011 at 05:53 PM
Another observation from the discussion is that I realized there is so much that I don't know about the scope and severity of this issue on Reading, and I want to learn more. More discussion, sharing of information needs to occur so that we can bring more visibility into defining what this "problem" really is. I think we will all be shocked. There are no silver bulltes but together, with active participation, we implement change that can make a difference. Reading can not accpet being known as a "gateway" for drugs.
Christine September 24, 2011 at 10:27 PM
When surrounding communities drug units aggressively target and "Arrest" drug dealers.....Where do you think these dealers eventually end up? It's not "Rocket" science!!!
take responsibility for yourself September 27, 2011 at 02:00 PM
A couple of things: You cannot control what adults do. Schools are not a substitute for parenting. It is our job to be parents FIRST. Get in your children's business. Know who their friends and friends parents are. GET INVOLVED!!! The police and schools can only do so much. I honestly believe that shows like "Intervention" need to be shown in school to give kids a real-world look at what happens when one decides to take certain substances. It's one thing to read about it in a textbook; it's another to see it up close. It can't be sugar-coated any longer. Maybe we can take a look at what bigger cities are doing to combat this problem and tailor it to fit Reading. Anything is better than nothing. Just my 2 pennies...for what they're worth......
John Carpenter October 06, 2011 at 11:02 AM
I agree with John's very thoughtful comments, and most of what others have posted. We all feel the urgency of the problem and want our kids to avoid life's pitfalls. The points about parents as mentors and as kids' first and best examples are important too. The one point where I would disagree, is starting the anti-drug (and anti-bullying, healthy choices, etc.) in middle school. Many kids make their choices of friends, values, the value of education, etc. by third grade. The Killam Pillars of Character program is a great example of values education at the elementary school level. To take it to the next level, how can we discredit and marginalize the advocates of immediate gratification, distrust, and violence, and convince our young people that the world doesn't owe them a good time? This is one of the most important issues that our community can come together to solve. Applause to RCASA for leading the charge. jc
Kat S October 06, 2011 at 11:34 AM
John and John C good comments. John C having just passed through the elementary and middle school grades with one of my children I want to mention that kids may want/like certain kids to be there friends but at that young age it is the parents who are coordinating all the "playdates". Sometimes our kids want to be friends with someone we might just have a feeling is not a good choice for them...even at this young age. Parents need to follow there instinct and heart and not worry about making sure there child is with the popular crowd. I often felt it was the parents who were struggling to fit in and having their child be friends with the "cool kids". It almost meant more to them than to the child themselves.

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