The Block Island Times

Bringing the topic of substance abuse into the open

By Judy Tierney | May 17, 2013
Pat Tengwall, Paul Deane and Fiona Fitzpatrick at the Prevention Task Force last week.

An energized group of 20 islanders met for the second time last week, determined to continue the dialogue about drug and alcohol abuse on Block Island and to seek reasonable approaches to tackle these issues. After much deliberation, it was decided to hold small groups in private homes that would include parents in the discussion and would be out of the public eye. The groups would discuss education and prevention, which could lead to a larger public training event in the future.

The Prevention Task Force, represented by School Assistance Counselor Shannon Morgan, agreed to take charge.

First, however, the group prioritized several topics that arose from the group’s previous meeting and later compiled by Pastor Steve Hollaway and Police Chief Vin Carlone.

Police Sergeant Paul Deane presented Carlone’s list, which identified risky behaviors that contribute to a greater risk of death or injury. Deane commented that the denial of that risk is generally accepted here. “I hear it all the time. ‘It’s Block Island.’” But, he added, that attitude is “placing our kids at risk.”

The risky behaviors ranged from not wearing helmets on mopeds to young people using alcohol and drugs as a rite of passage. Using his own experience as a police officer and a parent, Deane said, “If I say to parents, I am 95 percent sure your child is smoking marijuana, they say, ‘It’s okay, it’s just weed.’”

One by one, participants at the discussion shared their perceptions about whether there was an atmosphere of looking the other way when it comes to drug and alcohol abuse on the island. Island resident Martha Ball said she had been surprised in the last couple of weeks by the number of people who said they didn’t know there are drugs on the island. Elizabeth Holmes, who is in her 20s, said, “There are 50 to 60 year olds buying from people my age. They shouldn’t be doing that.” She then added, “I saw weed for the first time out here when I was 11 over a decade ago.”

Fiona Fitzpatrick spoke of the homegrown culture of alcohol use. Referring to those who drink and drive late at night, she asked, “What can we do to support the police cracking down on those cars out there?”

Checking people boarding the ferries with drug sniffing dogs was an idea the group tossed about, but aside from the legal issues connected with conducting such searches and the delays in boarding, Fitzpatrick noted another. “Drug sniffing dogs are a great tool, but having them at the ferry gives the idea our problems come from the outside,” she said

“What can we do to help?” Pastor Steve Hollaway of the Harbor Church asked Deane.

Deane reiterated the importance of discouraging risky behaviors, and he asked that community members support the police when they arrest people instead of saying bad things about the officers. “It gets back to community support and not saying that behavior is okay,” Hollaway said.

Shannon Morgan reported there is a full health curriculum at the Block Island School, but the Prevention Task Force will address the School Improvement Committee about more drug education. Block Island, Morgan told the group, is the only town in Rhode Island that does not fund a drug and alcohol counseling position. The state money that the Prevention Task Force receives is supposed to be for programs not staff, but because there is no local funding, it is used for staff. Morgan said that is how her very part time position at the school gets funded.

As ideas flowed, Hollaway suggested the group begin the training for parents. “Call parents and ask them to show up outside of the public eye at a house,” he said.

“Don’t lose a teachable moment,” Fitzpatrick said.

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