The second in a series of drug forums was held May 5 at Red Hook Town Hall and brought together 40 local residents and panelists from law enforcement, emergency services, county addiction services and the school district to help the community find solutions to the problem of drug addiction in Red Hook.
The panelists included Red Hook Police Sergeant Patrick Hildebrand, Sergeant Tyler Wyman of the Dutchess County Sheriff’s Drug Task Force; Northern Dutchess Paramedics field supervisor Thomas Stark; Sarah Burrows, Student Assistance Counselor at Red Hook High School, Elaine Trumpetto, Executive Director of the Council on Addiction Prevention of Dutchess County (CAPE) and Clay Laugier, a Red Hook High School alumnus, local business owner and self-described former addict.
The law enforcement officers didn’t mince their words in discussing the local and county drug scenes.
“The drugs are here to stay,” Hildebrand declared.
“We can’t arrest our way out of this,” added Wyman, while noting that the spike in overdose deaths from November 2013 to February 2014 has leveled off.
Area-wide reports of deaths from heroin and prescription drug use had triggered alarm at the state, county and local levels this winter and led to the first forum Jan. 30, as well as special sessions pulled together for parents.
Both men agreed that a “just say no” approach and sending users to jail doesn’t work.
According to Hildebrand, parental denial perpetuates the problem. “Residents say, ‘it can’t happen here,’ but it can — and it does,” he said.
Laugier suggested that the only way to fight the drug problem is to build coalitions in the community by grouping non-profits together for grant money, find mentors for the kids and build a youth center. He also felt parents must get more involved.
Trumpetto, the keynote speaker, said there is no quick fix for the drug problem. “It’s a community readiness issue and until it can be identified and intervention can be sustained over the long term, it won’t get better,” she said. Finding answers, she added, will require building a coalition of the business community, young people, residents, faith-based organizations, the school district and law enforcement.
She quoted a recent CAPE survey that included Red Hook students, which found alcohol use in Dutchess County for 8th, 10th and 12th graders was higher than the national average. According to the survey, students also said they did not have enough positive adult role models in their lives.
Wyman addressed that very point when he said, “Forums like this are really important, but the most important things start at home – good parenting skills, get rid of unused medications, and pay attention to your kids!”
The forum, which was organized by Strawinski, reached no formal conclusions, but there appeared to be strong interest in building a coalition.
“I believe we’re ready to move this coalition forward,” Strawinski said at the close of the evening.
This story was updated to show that Mr. Laugier was a panelist at this meeting, as well as a participant in the discussion.