October 28, 2012

Editorial: Small steps to combat drugs


---- — Amid what seems like a never-ending stream of meth-lab arrests come signs of progress against substance abuse in this region.

The Press-Republican has been peppered with news of meth arrests in recent months. That should be considered good news because it means police are tracking down the people concocting this dangerous drug.

Chalk the arrests up to good investigative work, reports from fed-up citizens, defendants who squeal on fellow druggies and sometimes just luck — as in the most recent arrest where police spotted smoke and decided to investigate.

One online commenter suggested the newspaper stop reporting the arrests because they give this area a bad name. On the contrary, they show that law-enforcement personnel around here are serious about reducing illegal drug use.

They are getting help from lawmakers, like the Clinton County Legislature, who recently made it illegal to possess the synthetic drugs that had been sold in some local convenience stores under such names as bath salts, K2 and Spice. The state had already banned sale of these items, but the accompanying fines didn’t pose enough of a threat.

Legislators had hoped store owners would, out of a sense of civic responsibility, stop selling these chemical-packed drugs, which have been shown to sometimes cause dangerous reactions in users. But some businesses decided the profit from sales was worth the chance of fines.

So the County Legislature got tough and passed its own law, making it a misdemeanor to possess these synthetic drugs, with the threat of up to a year of jail time.

Police and health officials were reacting to an increase in use of these once-legal drugs — and an accompanying rise in serious health problems. County Legislator John Gallagher, a longtime educator in this area, said the fake drugs are even being used by middle-school-age children, which he aptly described as “scary.”

But tucked in a recently released study of student behavior in Essex County comes this good news about substance abuse: Alcohol use by seventh-graders is at 24 percent for 2012, down from 38 percent in 2008. For 12th-grade students, alcohol use declined from 66 to 53 percent.

The Preventive Needs Assessment Survey, which reached 76 percent of high-school students in Essex County, did find that marijuana use among 12th-graders increased from 27 to 29 percent.

Even at that, the point that parents and teachers should emphasize is that “everybody is doing it” is very far from the truth. Adults grasping at ways to keep their kids away from alcohol and other drugs should point out that way more young people aren’t taking part in those risky behaviors than are.

Those who don’t drink or do drugs are by far the majority. We sometimes lose track of that.

Illegal drug activity will never be completely eliminated — from this area or anyplace else. But the ongoing busts, the tougher laws, the continuing education and the parental guidance can all slowly erode this pervasive problem.