Pubdate: Thu, 13 Oct 2005
Source: Berkshire Eagle, The (Pittsfield, MA)
Copyright: 2005 New England Newspapers, Inc.
Author: Benning W. De La Mater, Berkshire Eagle Staff


PITTSFIELD - Francesca Speicher-Cote has seen the drug temptations
grow  with time. And for reasons unbeknownst to her, temptation beats
out intellect  for a chosen few.

"The sad part about the nation's drug abuse problem is that we have
never given up any drug," said the Brien Center counselor. "We just
keep adding to them." More drugs to abuse Like the selection of liquor
on a store shelf, the drugs available for teenagers to experiment with
today have also grown. That's why community leaders came up with a
plan to start the Pittsfield Prevention Partnership (PPP), a coalition
of citizens and community leaders bent on ending illegal drug and
alcohol abuse problem among the city's youth.

The coalition's leaders announced their vision at a press conference
yesterday, when Speicher-Cote was joined by people like Ellen Ruberto,
the wife  of Mayor James M. Ruberto; Ruth Blodgett of Berkshire
Medical Center; Phyllis Sandrew, a PPP founding member, and Jim
Cieslar, president of Berkshire United Way. Achieving their mission
will be a long and arduous trip, but the group is prepared for a long,
hard struggle.

"We've had for many years a drug and alcohol problem," Ruberto said.
"But the one thing we found was that we were missing a component of

The Lodestar II survey, taken by the United Way in 2003 and 2004,
determined that this was true. Alcohol and drug abuse among teenagers,
the survey found, has damaged overall health and the health care system
and has led to an increase  in crime. Consistent drug education and
deep dialogue aimed at youth seemed to  be missing.

Recruiting soldiers 

The PPP, using the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition as a model,
formed to increase these prevention measures. Recruiting religious,
political and community leaders alongside citizens and law enforcement
officials, all with the  hope of stirring constructive dialogue, is the
group's goal. "We ask people to join us in helping to identify and
change those things that lead to abuse, and to foster a relationship
among all of us," Ruberto said. 

Changing attitudes 

Outside of education and words, Blodgett said the group is in the dark,
like most areas of the nation, as to what will improve the situation.
Blodgett, who  has two children of her own and has been struggling with
finding the right words  when it comes to talking about drugs, said,
"There's a tremendous amount of  skills to learn when it comes to that,
and that's what we're hoping to generate." "So many parents think it's
OK for their kids to drink or have a marijuana cigarette," said
Ruberto, "thinking that 'Oh, I did it when I was their age,' is  an
acceptable excuse. It's not."

A scientific approach will be followed, using surveys,
psychology-based analysis and studies to help fight the problem. The
group will meet three times  a week at the United Way offices on South
Street. People who want to help can join by contacting the United Way
at (413) 442-6948. Speicher-Cote, of the Brien Center, said that while
numbers show that most teenagers avoid falling into drug abuse, she
did label it a "scourge," with a "re-evolution" of heroin use and
stronger cocaine and marijuana making its way to communities.

"(These drugs) are alluring substances to our young, and they aren't
labeled 86 proof," she said. "You don't know what's in them, and
neither do those who are dealing. I've had youngsters say to me 'If
you tried it, you'd love it.' The  mindset has to end."

Leadership needed 

Cieslar said citizens and parents need to take on leadership roles to
change social norms.

"No one person can do it," he said. "It takes all entities working
together. Look at what we've done with smoking and how people view that
today. We want to  do that same thing with drugs and alcohol. It's
about advocacy and awareness,  and getting the information on what they
do to a body out to the public will  help."
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