Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

How Do We Combat Drugs? Build Community.

Last night I attended the Drug Awareness presentation hosted by "My Community My Voice". They had arranged to bring in a guest speaker, Sgt. Lorne Adamitz (RCMP "K" Division, Edmonton Drug and Organized Crime Awareness Services), and it was an enlightening evening on many levels.

Sgt. Adamitz is an engaging speaker, and I am willing to bet he does particularly well speaking in schools as he has an open and direct manner that kids would find very refreshing. He is obviously well versed in the subject matter and brings his years of police experience to the discussion. He emphasizes that he doesn't have all the answers and that much of this is about having the discussions, both within our families and within our society at large.

I must admit this writer got a bit nervous when he spoke about the most commonly used drug in society being caffeine (and I suspect he saw me trying to kick my empty Starbucks cup under my chair although I tried to be subtle about it). The presentation covered a wide range of topics from what constitutes a drug to what the effects of different types of drugs are, the signs of drug use, the effects of drug use, and even the manufacturing methods of some drugs. My favourite part of the night, though? How we combat drugs in our society. The answer, people, is that "c" word I love so much - "community".

As Sgt. Adamitz said it's the responsibility of the police to determine if someone is engaging in criminal activity. However, the police cannot be everywhere at once, and often only know that suspicious activity is occurring if it is reported. Who does the reporting? We do, people. And how do we know if something seems wrong? By knowing our community, and by having built a relationship within our community.

Community isn't that hard to build. It starts with saying hello to your neighbours. Maybe eventually you even get to know the names of their kids. Maybe you even do small favours for them (like the neighbour this year who saw me struggling to shovel several centimetres of snow off my driveway and rolled over with his snowblower). Small steps build community, and the benefits are huge. Not only does it make us feel good to live in a community it can protect us and our families, too.

Once you've begun to build community you can notice when things in the community seem off. You know, like the house down the street that always has the blinds drawn, and a suspicious amount of activity only late at night. Or the house where they have lots of visitors but the guests only stay a moment or two (just about the right amount of time to complete a drug deal, for instance). When you know your community well you can sense when something odd is going on, and that's when you can turn it over to the professionals - the police.

If you don't know your community, though, you may not be able to see the warning signs. I've lived in places with significant drug problems, and all I can say is that once they reach a certain point the cost to the community is incalculable. In my twenties I spent many mornings removing crack pipes and used syringes from the sidewalk in front of a business in a major Canadian city, and I know that working and/or living in that neighbourhood was a trying experience. So, if we don't build community we can't combat drugs moving into it - and once they have truly moved in removing them can be a enormous task. It's really about building a community before they have the chance to gain a foothold in it, people.

I thank "My Community My Voice" for sponsoring and hosting this presentation. While I have known the facts about drugs for a very long time it was great to have a refresher course. Even more importantly Sgt. Adamitz' presentation gave me more things to think about in terms of why community is so important. It's a word that seems to come up a lot in this blog, and it is frequently on my mind. When Sgt. Adamitz mentioned the "c" word I'm sure he saw the light bulb over my head go on because it's just the constant running theme for me recently, and after the presentation I spoke to him and told him that it was truly the "take home message" for me - and it is. Once you build a community you have something you want to protect - and people, this community of ours deserves protection. Let's build a community we are proud of, and then let's fight like hell to keep it that way.

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