Smoke signals

07Feb16

drugsThere has been much hand-wringing of late regarding the opioid abuse crisis. As there should be.

But when it comes to dealing with substance abuse, we know what works and what doesn’t work. Our long history with alcohol and tobacco provides a blueprint, if only we would follow it instead of looking for other dangerous drugs to legalize and promote.

Just last week, the Wakefield Board of Selectmen showed how it’s done.

They sent a message.

They wanted the message to be loud and they wanted it to be clear: They don’t want Wakefield to be known as a place where minors can come to purchase alcohol.

jeffreys3That was why they imposed the maximum two-day license suspension on Jeffrey’s Package Store (aka Andy’s liquors) after police caught a pair of kids from Reading leaving the store on New Year’s Eve toting a load of booze. The boys, age 19 and 20, told police they were home from school for the holidays.

Officer Kyle Meehan was on foot patrol in the square at about 1 p.m. on Dec. 31 when he spotted the fresh-faced youths leaving the store toting a bottle of vodka, two 30-packs of Bud Light and a 30-pack of Busch Light. The college boys are lucky they weren’t also charged with bad taste. At least Officer Meehan brought them back into the store to return their purchases and get their money back.

I’m guessing that put a damper on their New Year’s Eve celebration, not to mention winter break, once mommy and daddy found out.

Steve_Maio_hs2Town Administrator Stephen P. Maio told the selectmen that he could not think of another instance in the last 25 years where a local liquor store has been caught selling to minors.

There’s a reason for that.

Whenever an applicant comes before the board looking for a new liquor license, whether for a store, restaurant, club or hotel the selectmen leave little doubt that they take the issue of selling alcohol very seriously. They make it abundantly clear that they have zero tolerance for violations.

That strong messaging is a big reason why there has been one violation in the last 25 years.

The issue of alcohol abuse is something that society in general also takes very seriously. Ask anyone who’s been stopped for drinking and driving in the last few decades.

It wasn’t always the case.

haffenrefferSome people are old enough to remember the days when if you got stopped by the police while weaving on home from a party with an open brew between your legs, chances are you’d get sent on your way with a nothing more than a stern warning. Those days have been gone for at least 30 years, and over the same time the anti-drunk driving message has been hammered relentlessly.

It worked. Drunk driving deaths in the US plummeted from 21,113 in 1982 to 9,967 in 2014.

We’ve had similar success in the battle against tobacco.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control, 42.4 percent of adults in the US smoked in 1965, the year after the Surgeon General’s report on cigarette smoking and health came out. Since then, tobacco advertising was banned and anti-tobacco messaging exploded. Everywhere you went, the message was “Don’t smoke.” Kids were especially inundated.

The result?

buttsBy 2012, the percentage of adult smokers in the US had been cut to 17.4, a drop of more than 60 percent.

In 1963, kids couldn’t wait to turn 16 because they could legally buy butts. Ask kids today and they’ll tell you that smoking is “gross.”

So we know what works: education. We’ve spent decades educating the population about the dangers of smoking and drunk driving. As a result, we’ve cut both drunk driving deaths and smoking rates in half or better.

We also know what doesn’t work: legalization. Despite all the gains in recent decades, our biggest substance abuse problems remain the legal ones: alcohol and tobacco. That’s not a coincidence.

So it is nothing short of mind-boggling that so many people think it’s a swell idea to legalize yet another psychoactive drug for recreational use.

marijuanaFirst, in 2012 we sent the message that marijuana is “medicine” when majority of voters in Massachusetts, including Wakefield, bought the scam and voted to legalize “medical” marijuana.

And now, some of our esteemed statesmen in the Massachusetts Legislature want to pass a law legalizing marijuana for recreational use too. If that doesn’t work, there will be referendum questions on the ballot when you go to vote next November asking you to legalize the bud.

I predict that a few decades from now, maybe sooner, people will look back at 2016, scratch their heads and wonder why, with all we knew about alcohol and tobacco, and while in the midst of an opioid abuse crisis, people decided that legalizing another mind-altering drug for recreational use was a good idea.

But by then, the horse will be out of the barn and galloping through fields of Purple Haze.

potheadOur history with alcohol and tobacco has shown that legalization leads only to more use and more problems. We know that the only way to combat those problems is with strong messaging.

What message do you suppose legalizing marijuana will send?

When it comes to marijuana, we are choosing to do the exact opposite of what we know works.

What could possibly go wrong?

[This column originally appeared in the February 4, 2016 Wakefield Daily Item.]

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One Response to “Smoke signals”

  1. Years ago when u did get pulled over for weaving around you got a warning n many times an escort home to make sure you were ok. I no longer drink n haven’t for a long time. 35 plus years. I happened to be coming home one night when a drunk on my side of the road lights out on his car. It was a 68 ford Galaxie n I just bought a new Toyota van. 14 miles on the motor. I turn the wheel to avoid getting hit head on flipped my van three times. I managed to climb out by myself but now permanently disabled w 9 ruptured discs in my neck n back. I fall down every now n then cuz of it. Funny he stopped the young kid fm reading that caused the accident. But when he heard the police coming he left. How do I know where he was fm I did my own investigation n his dad being a cop car disappeared. As for smoving pot I don’t n I don’t care if u do, just don’t do near me I hate the smell. some ppl need it. As for opiates some ppl literally need for severe pain n the kids n I w a days has made that a living hell for ppl who seriously need them to move around with. As for heroin I lost my daughter over a year to that crap n I believe it is the government smuggling it in. Giving to dealers they know. Notice it’s all military age kids overdosing on this crap. If we had a war bigger than what’s happening now, we will be screwed. Just my opinion.


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