No neighborhood is safe. From working-class communities, where children find syringes in the playground, to upscale town-house developments, where couples relax with cigarettes and drinks, every section of Anne Arundel County is struggling with drug and alcohol abuse.
That's the simple and powerful message of a new, countywide drug-prevention plan.
Public health officials unveiled a 26-page blueprint yesterday totake the war on drugs to the streets, homes and offices of every community. The plan, described as an "aggressive" and "measurable" effort, includes monthly surveys of residents, school programs, partnerships with civic groups and churches and business workshops.
"We've never had a unified effort before to do some things that could be measured," County Executive Robert R. Neall said during a news conferenceyesterday morning in Annapolis. "We saw a lot of things that seemed to make sense, but you can't just run programs on warm and fuzzy feelings."
The plan calls for gauging the county's drug problem by surveying 2,000 households every month. Members of the Drug and Alcohol Abuse Prevention Program also will knock on doors and meet with community leaders to set up individual neighborhood programs.
"We're going to take a person-to-person look at each community," promised David Almy, the county's drug czar. "We're going to look at who is at risk and why, so we can figure out how to alleviate that risk."
Billed as "an aggressive community restoration and empowerment process," the local "community certification" effort is the new program's linchpin, Almy said. He hopes to identify an active church, civic group or Kiwanis club in every neighborhood to lead an individualized war on drugs.
"Anne Arundel County is very diverse," Neall said. "You can't just give them a cookie-cutter program. The real work, and the workthat really means something, will be done by the community."
In switching its focus to grass-roots efforts, the county increased the amount of money it is giving this year to community organizations from$30,000 to $54,575. Twenty-nine groups, including the Annapolis Boys& Girls Clubs, the YMCA, Helping Hand homeless shelter and Peer Scene theater, received assistance.
Almy said the new community-based plan will allow the drug office to better track the county's drug problem. By surveying residents and keeping statistics on arrests and treatment, the office will determine if drug and alcohol use is declining, he said.
The office began developing its new program six months ago, when Neall's transition team questioned its overall effectiveness and suggested more definite goals.
Neall, who was Maryland's first drug czar in 1989, praised the plan as comprehensive, aggressiveand easier to evaluate.
He also emphasized the importance of efforts to help youths resist the lure of drinking and experimenting withdrugs. But he said the responsibility begins at home.
"Part of it's education," he said. "Part of it's trying to get all parents to realize just how important this is."
The county is introducing parent-training workshops to help families talk about drug and alcohol abuse, Almy said. Other efforts to target the county's youth will include starting a teen center in the Annapolis area and training student leaders and athletes to serve as role models.