LACONIA — The Middle School JAG Class last week hosted a Empty Bowls Banquet in conjunction with Stand Up! Laconia's presentation, "Let's Talk About Drugs and our Community". During the presentation the School District's resource police officer, Steve Orton reaffirmed that the community is experiencing a drug epidemic that requires the community's immediate intervention.
The Empty Bowls Banquet was conceived to benefit local charity organizations. Madelina Morris, a 7th grade student, took on the project as an independent study, and received help and support from various organizations and individuals within the schools. Working in collaboration with Tavern 27, the group was able to get soup donated for the event.
"The project helped me see that a little bit can go a long way, and that you need to need to think of others before yourself," said Morris. "This year we raised over $700 and next year we hope to raise even more."
Stand Up! Laconia is a grassroots coalition that is standing up against drug and alcohol use among the youth and actively promoting an increase in positive and healthy peer and family relationships in the community. Clare Persson, chair of Stand Up! Laconia introduced the guest speakers for the presentation: Traci Fowler of Lakes Region Community Services, Orton of the Laconia Police Department and Detective Chris Noyes of the Narcotics Unit at LPD.
"N.H. has a drug and alcohol epidemic" was the statement that kicked off the presentation. Using this statement as a platform for discussion, Fowler showed recent statistics placing New Hampshire as the second ranked state for monthly marijuana use in the age 12-17 category, and first in the country for past month alcohol consumption between the ages 12-20. In addition to the high national averages, state surveys have shown that the Lakes Region is above the state average for past 30 day consumption of alcohol and substance abuse in all categories.
Fowler stressed the importance of parents becoming involved in the lives of their children and the local youth at large. "Nine out of 10 people struggling with an addiction started before age 18," stated Fowler. "If we can prevent drug abuse at a young age, we can help prevent long-term drug addiction."
As school resource officer for Laconia High School, too, Orton sees first hand the effects drugs and alcohol have on the youth in the community. In both the school and the widespread community there is generally 10 percent of the population who has significant disciplinary and abuse problems, yet this small population has a large effect on the other 90 percent. The cultural shift constantly promoting the use of drugs and alcohol through television shows, commercials, songs, and other media outlets has caused the vast majority of people to become dull to the messages inundating the lives of the youth.
With a small group of people assembled, Orton stated that it will be impossible to fight the 10 percent with 1 just percent of the 90 percent "strong". The other 89 percent of the "strong" community must take the initiative to wake up to the issue and become involved in they wish to see the issues dissipate, he said. "We are not going to combat this problem until the community stands up, fills and room, and works to make a change."
For a broader look at the substance abuse epidemic, Detective Noyes exposed critical information regarding prevalence of man-made drugs on the market. It was made known that after the first six months of prescription drug disposal at the new drop-off box in Laconia, there was over 412-pounds of prescription drugs collected. This number was first in the state, with Nashua next with a collection of 290- pounds. In addition to the disproportionate amount of prescription drugs prevalent among the community, there is a also a high demand for synthetic drugs such as "Spice" and "K2", which can be purchased over the counter in various surrounding towns.
"Parents need to be aware of the products on the market and be a part of their kids lives," said Noyes. "Every person who does something is going to effect someone you know, so turning a blind eye toward the issue will help no one."