Newtown’s Drug Problem

Newtown Bee Editorial

Newtown has a drug problem.

That is the kind of message that is a marketer’s nightmare, and there are a lot of people marketing Newtown these days, so it is also a message that is not mentioned very often in our community’s public discourse. Two women, however, are determined to make as many townspeople as possible aware of Newtown’s growing crisis of substance abuse among adolescents.

Dorrie Carolan and Donna DeLuca head up The Parent Connection, a group dedicated to fighting substance abuse by Newtown’s youth. Last week, in a commentary published in The Bee, they issued a warning to the town that “there has been for some time a culture of substance abuse among our youth that has escalated so greatly in recent years that we now find ourselves in what is undeniably a crisis.” To follow up this warning with information, The Parent Connection is planning a series of open forums for the public beginning next month. Every parent should attend.

There is already some disturbing information on the record. A survey conducted in Newtown last year and released this past May revealed: 44 percent of high school sophomores and 68.6 percent of seniors had consumed alcohol in the previous month — significantly higher than the 35.4 percent and 48 percent national averages. And significantly, three quarters of the eleventh and twelfth graders who said they drank reported that they averaged three or more drinks at a time, which means they were drinking to get drunk. More than a third of eleventh and twelfth graders reported that they were marijuana users. And most alarming, heroin use is on the rise, along with other opiates such as OxyContin, according to drug and alcohol counselor John Hamilton. He addressed Newtown Youth Services earlier this year, and reported that Newtown kids now have access to drugs that can take them from casual use to full-blown addiction in a weekend. In February and March, the detox facility where Mr Hamilton works treated 200 individuals from Fairfield County for addiction to OxyContin.

Perhaps the hardest part of admitting that there is a drug problem in Newtown is admitting that the problem is not limited to the kids using drugs. It is not a crisis for adolescents; it is a crisis for families. The solution is not as simple as “fixing the kids.” Whole families will have to take responsibility for both the problems of substance abuse and for its solutions. The National Institute on Drug Abuse has identified three crucial risk factors for adolescent substance abuse: chaotic home environments, particularly when parental substance abuse or mental illness is present; ineffective parenting, especially for children with difficult temperaments and conduct disorders; and lack of mutual attachments or nurturing. Conversely, families in which there are strong connections among family members, parental monitoring and clear rules of conduct, and respect for spiritual and educational growth are more protected from the risks of substance abuse, according to the institute.

It may be unpleasant to hear that Newtown has a drug problem, but it is the truth — and individuals, families, and communities ignore the truth at their own peril. Let the marketers toss and turn. The rest of us can sleep better knowing that through the leadership and example of The Parent Connection, Newtown is finally looking this problem square in the face. And that is the first difficult step in protecting all of Newtown’s children from the nightmare of substance abuse and addiction.

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