Prevention and Awareness
By: Rabbi Yakov Horowitz
We need not reinvent the wheel. The public at large has been grappling with the issue of the prevention of alcohol and substance abuse for decades, and what works is quite simple in concept and challenging in implementation – awareness and education.
Several years ago I read a fascinating article regarding the reaction of many school districts to the growing incidence of substance abuse in affluent suburban areas of New York City. Public health officials in these areas were alarmed by the trend of rising drug and alcohol use among the teens in their care. They were also puzzled by the fact that during the same time period, drug use was dropping in the inner city. Overall, there were still higher percentages of inner city kids who were ‘using’, but there was a clear pattern over a number of years of diminishing numbers in the cities and increasing substance abuse in the wealthy suburban areas. Several school districts in the northern suburbs of New York City pooled their resources and retained a firm to conduct extensive research in an attempt to gain insight into the reasons for this inexplicable phenomenon.
A REALITY CHECK
The research firm discovered that the inner city parents and schools were far more realistic in their assessment of the facts on the ground than their more affluent suburbanites. Inner city parents and school officials were very cognizant of the dangers of alcohol and substance abuse. Inner-city schools had ‘healthy living’ curricula in the very early grades and hard-hitting substance abuse prevention programs beginning as early as the middle school grades. Parents spoke to their children early and often – as early as their formative years – about the dangers of smoking and drinking. The parents of inner-city kids did not feel that they had the luxury of assuming that their kids were safe from the ravages of illegal substances. And despite the challenges of inner-city life, the parental input had an overwhelmingly positive impact on reducing the incidence of substance abuse among children.
They also discovered a sense of danger and urgency among the inner city parents who felt an existential threat from these elements. Subsequently, they were not shy when it came to defending their children and reporting those who were endangering their welfare. This brings me to:
Three weeks ago, in my most recent column on this subject, I posed the following question: are we prepared to help arrest, convict and lock up those criminals who are pushing drugs to our children? I noted the reaction of the local residents of my hometown, Monsey, where more than 300 people turned out at a Town Hall meeting to voice their opposition to a proposed cell tower that was to be built in their neighborhood.
This is in direct contrast to our indifference when we hear rumors that there are frum people dealing drugs to our children, or when we observe a bartender serving unlimited liquor to 17-year-olds at a wedding.
How much is too much?
Perhaps we should ask ourselves what is the acceptable level of drug-related deaths and shattered lives due to drug overdoses (which almost always have their early roots in cigarette and alcohol use) that we are willing to tolerate before we will finally mobilize to combat this scourge.
Several weeks ago, I had the pleasure of speaking with my dear chaver, David Mandel, the visionary CEO of Ohel Children’s Home. We were discussing a series of meetings that we had a number of years ago, when the at-risk teen phenomenon was first brought to the public consciousness. We were trying to place a timeline on a certain event that took place around that time. I asked David, “How long ago was that meeting?”
He was quiet for a long moment, and then replied softly, “Yankie, that was about 12 or 13 deaths ago.”
© 2003 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved
To sign up for Rabbi Horowitz’s weekly emails, please click here.