Drug and alcohol forum seeks public input

NASHUA – Anyone concerned about the effects of alcohol and other drugs on community life is invited to attend a meeting next week, one of a series organized across the state to address issues of prevention, intervention and treatment.

“It’s an opportunity to have a voice, (express) concerns, hopes for addressing the issues in our community,” said Betsy Abrahams, executive director of The Youth Council, a co-sponsor of the event slated for Nov. 17, from 7-8:30 p.m. at Bonhoeffer’s Cafe at Grace Fellowship Church, 34 Franklin St.

The aim of the meeting is to draw attention to alcohol and other drug issues, make suggestions about how to use limited funds to improve services, and give parents, teenagers, school officials, law enforcement personnel and elected officials an opportunity to share ideas and experiences.

“Not any one of us has all the answers we need,” said Abrahams, who in addition to heading The Youth Council also serves on the Governor’s Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention, Intervention, and Treatment and is active in several other related groups.

Since late September, state officials have been meeting with the public to discuss current efforts, including public funding of programs addressing alcohol and other drug issues.

These discussions, however, have a historical context: The Governor’s Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention, Intervention, and Treatment was established four years ago – the same year the state Legislature passed a bill that dedicates a portion of the profits from alcohol sales to prevention and treatment.

But the Alcohol Fund has not been fully funded, Abrahams said. According to the formula, the fund would have received about $10 million in the 2004 and 2005 fiscal years. But legislative action and cuts made by the state Department of Health and Human Services left $640,000 in the fund for the current fiscal year and $1.3 million for the 2005 fiscal year.

Abrahams said the effects of the cuts are significant.

“In southern Hillsborough County, many more of the problems associated with teen alcohol and drug use could be prevented using just one-tenth of the Alcohol Fund,” Abrahams wrote in a prepared draft.

Based on program costs, she said, $510,800 from the Alcohol Fund could expand local court diversion programs to help 250 more first-time offenders, increase school suspension centers for more than 250 students, educate 500 more area teenagers about the use of alcohol and other drugs, provide parenting classes for several hundred parents, and teach about 2,000 children in area schools to protect themselves from sexual and physical assault, often a precursor to teen alcohol problems.

Abrahams said public input is key to determining how to best use limited funds.

“Given what we have, have we used (resources) wisely?,” she said officials will ask. “We want to get input, (ask) ‘What would you do if the fund was restored to the original amount?’”

The forum is open to anyone with an interest in alcohol and other drug issues. Seating capacity is 200 and reservations are not required.

“Sometimes it feels like we’re swimming against the tide. We do the best we can,” said Abrahams, adding that she looks forward to input “that will make the most impact.”