Prevention needs to be focus

For the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Tuesday, July 10, 2018 2:40PM

Focus more on substance abuse prevention and the need for rehabilitation will be reduced as a result.

I have followed the activity related to the proposal to build a 64 bed rehab center in Peterborough and read the editorial “Not in My Backyard” published by this paper. The points presented in that writing are valid, however the discussion bypassed a very critical issue. I wish to respond.

The substance abuse crisis in our communities is complex and overwhelming. That is because there is a substance abuse crisis. The personal, community and economic impact substance abuse issues cause are beyond comprehension. Having served, and I truly mean “served” 33 years as a police officer and educator, I dedicated a great deal of time and effort toward not only arresting violent offenders associated with illegal drug activities, but also establishing and presenting drug abuse prevention initiatives. It is very difficult to establish how successful the preventative efforts were, but I venture to guess, many more people avoided drug abuse behaviors because of it than I arrested.

Consider this analogy, our country is also attempting to address numerous health challenges through the development of additional medicines and cutting edge medical facilities. There is no need to mention what all that has done to our country’s current healthcare state of affairs, at the forefront cost wise. That is because efforts are mostly directed toward ‘responding’ to health issues rather than preventing many of those conditions from developing in the first place. Many forms of cancer as well as heart disease can be prevented through diet alone. Unfortunately, even today very little time is spent teaching future doctors how to educate patients on how to eat better rather than which regiment of drugs are prescribed to treat the ailments that develop because they didn’t.

Back to the topic at hand, if we dedicated more effort toward preventing drug abuse, there would be less of a need for enforcement activity and rehabilitation of people addicted to drugs. I am not speaking of handing out pamphlets from an informational booth at a fair, or posting a phrase on a billboard. I mean a real effort to educate and convince people that using drugs not needed to treat an illness is bad.

Just ask a student or teacher how much time in class is dedicated toward addressing the impact of drug abuse throughout the 12 years they attend school. I know better than most people, the answer to that is “not much.” School curriculum is so antiquated it falls far short of addressing contemporary issues our young people will actually need to master before they can apply the other subject matter traditionally presented almost unchanged for decades.

My career has spanned the heroin crisis of the 1970s as a police officer in southern New Jersey, the crack epidemic of the 1980s while serving as a DEA agent in Philadelphia, another heroin crisis during the 1990s while running a regional high school police department in Camden County, N.J., and of course the more recent “let’s legalize marijuana movement because it’s good for you” and the confusing messages it sends to our youth.

Throughout all my years, I reached out to hundreds of thousands of people through dozens of articles in magazines, workshop presentations throughout the U.S. and the free distributions of thousands of drug education manuals I wrote. Unfortunately, except for the people who accepted the facts I had shared, those efforts did little to impact the drug abuse challenges being experienced throughout the nation.

Sadly, just this past weekend while enjoying the fireworks in Hancock, I observed numerous young teenagers, 15 or 16, smoking cigarettes while sipping vodka from unmarked water bottles as they sat on the lawn. I suspect other abusive substances are also part of their ignorant existences when they aren’t in such a public setting. I also suspect some of the group I observed might actually need one of those rehab beds.

In my current status of retirement, I suspect this is my final attempt to convince people to focus on “real” efforts to educate and prevent drug abuse. If we can succeed at that, maybe someday there will not be a need for a 64 bed rehabilitation facility in a small rural town in New Hampshire.

Martin Dunn served 28 years as a police officer and drug enforcement officer in New Jersey and Philadelphia, before retiring and serving another five years as a police chief in New Hampshire. In addition, he served as an adjunct professor of criminal justice and lectured on drug abuse and school violence throughout the U.S.