Editor’s Note: The following is Part Two in Wilmington Patch’s five part series on drug use in Wilmington. In Part One on Monday we provided a look at how much of an issue town officials and police believe drugs are in town. Check back throughout the week for more stories, and to find all five stories in one place, you can visit the topic page for our drug series.
Town officials and police have identified drug use as one of the problems facing Wilmington residents. Now they’ve found what they hope to be a solution to that problem.
Director of Public Health Shelly Newhouse is leading the charge in forming a local drug coalition that would bring together representatives from the school system, Wilmington Police Department, local government and community at large in an effort to fight what has become a growing concerning in town.
“I hope that with the coalition, we can give parents a good resource,” said Newhouse. “You can have an organization with hundreds of people involved that can go nowhere. What I want to do is get the right people involved to see if we can make a difference.”
Newhouse is still in the early stages of planning, but she hopes to apply for a grant in January that would allow her to use federal funds that are allocated for communities to change strategies in an effort to reduce substance abuse.
Superintendent of Schools Joanne Benton said she is meeting with Newhouse, Wilmington High School principal Eric Tracy and Middle School principal Christine McMenimen this week to discuss the coalition. At the next School Committee meeting, Benton will have a report on what the district is doing to combat drug use.
“These are issues that communities fight all the time, and it takes an entire community to work with these issues and problems,” said Tracy. “Especially with young adults who are getting caught up in this, it seems to be a good way to push information out to all avenues. The more connections that are made and more information that is out there is a benefit, and that’s the No. 1 priority.”
Board of Selectmen chairman Michael Newhouse said he believes board members would be open to the idea of a coalition if it were presented to them.
“I’m all ears in terms of what some of the remedies to this problem should be,” he said. “Education, self-awareness, and being familiar with the signs of drug use are critical. That stuff is really important as a parent.”
Shelly Newhouse originally brought up the topic at the Board of Health meeting two weeks ago, and she received unanimous support from board members to go forward with the idea.
The Health Director said that she has worked in town for nearly 16 years, and that she has seen a significant increase in drug issues.
According to Newhouse, a big key is beginning drug prevention discussions at the middle school level. She said the conversation with that age group should focus heavily on avoiding alcohol and cigarettes, which Newhouse said can be a gateway to drug use.
“It’s something that is an issue across the whole state,” said Newhouse. “It raises our awareness and shows us that we need to do something about it now.”
Police Chief Michael Begonis said the most critical aspect of drug awareness is getting people involved from different areas of the community.
“Like anything, if you have a single conversation and that’s all, you’re opening up for potential disaster,” said Begonis. “True change is institutionalized. It’s a paradigm shift in how you do things.”