Police Chief’s drug abuse campaign
Drug enforcement is the police department’s jurisdiction and Police Chief Vincent Carlone’s overriding concern, he said, is for our children. Speaking to The Block Island Times, Carlone had candid advice for parents on how to help combat juvenile drug abuse.
“We have 100 kids [on the island]. Only a few of those children are involved in drug use, and we should not cover that behavior up,” he said. “We have to focus our energy on communicating properly. They can change.”
Cocaine abuse was rampant in the 1980s, and now prescription drug abuse has taken the lead. Carlone believes prescription drugs that are making their way to our children are obtained from friends and family medicine cabinets more so than from people selling them. He said young people are snorting medications, or injecting them and mixing them with alcohol.
Experts agree with his observations. A University of Michigan survey of 12th graders found the most commonly used prescription drugs during the past year were opoid pain relievers such as Oxycontin and Vicodin, stimulants such as Adderall, Concerta and Ritalin, and anxiety relievers such as Valium or Xanax. Over-the-counter medications were abused as well, particularly cold and cough medicines containing dextromethorphan, which can act as a hallucinogen when taken in higher than recommended dosages.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse, a Division of the National Institutes of Health, reported the U. of Michigan results. Most teenagers, the Institute claims, get the pills free from a friend or a relative.
In the past, when relatives or friends found someone using drugs, “People used to call us,” Carlone said. “Now they cover it up.”
If the police are called, they could intervene. Especially with children, the police can help keep them safe. Carlone predicted that if even a couple of the kids told them where they are getting drugs, it would send a chilling message to the drug community, a community already filled with fear and mistrust.
Drug use is also a health matter. Carlone wants to assure parents that if their children cooperate, the police department has a lot of latitude with juveniles. “It is a rehabilitative process, not a punitive one. We can get them to treatment,” he said. Even for the uncooperative who are charged and sent to juvenile court, the state destroys their records when they are 18 years old, Carlone said.
“I hear constantly ‘this is a straight A student.’ But underneath, the kid has a problem they [the parents] are not addressing,” said Carlone. If it were his kids, he would search their rooms, be “tough” and “vigilant.” Don’t ignore missing liquor or pills, he advised, and parents should keep their prescription medications in locked cabinets, especially if there are teenagers or grandchildren in the house. The police department will properly dispose of any medications after an illness is resolved and they are no longer needed.
For those who are older, Carlone held out little hope for rehabilitation. “How do you correct a 50-year-old?” he asked. “You correct it in the population coming up.” For the 20-year-old, or 50-year-old, it is much harder than for the teenager.
With but four police officers in his department, Carlone can only scratch the surface. He has one officer trained as a drug detection expert who can detect behaviors that indicate intoxication. That officer is called in to take a look at people who have been detained.
The kids are “certainly drinking,” Carlone maintains, and when the brain is still forming, there is the potential for problems further on.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s website, opioid pills are now considered a gateway drug leading to heroin abuse. The Institute surveyed data from three recent studies of young heroin users who inject the drug and found that nearly half used prescription pain killers first. They can also lead to death. There are more overdose deaths from opoid pain relievers than from any other drug overdose.
They estimated that in 2010, about seven million Americans, or 2.7 percent of the population, used drugs without medical oversight that target the central nervous system. Most were pain relievers, but tranquilizers, stimulants and sedatives were also used.
Although these drugs are useful tools in medical treatment when taken as prescribed, they can cause physical problems and addiction. According to the Institute’s website, “When abused, all of these classes of drugs directly or indirectly cause a pleasurable increase in the amount of dopamine in the brain’s reward pathway. Repeatedly seeking to experience that feeling can lead to addiction.”
Lamenting the fact that addictive prescription drugs are so easily obtained and so ubiquitous, Carlone blames the drug companies who profit from their sales. He recalled the legal battles to have cigarettes labeled and lead removed from paints as it was hurting children.
“They are more culpable than the lead paint companies,” Carlone said. “Just like the tobacco companies.”