Substance abuse fighter targets youth

New county chief says tough stand needed on drugs, alcohol, tobacco

`We have to do something'

Parental involvement, prevention courses in schools also sought

February 23, 1999|By Jill Hudson Neal | Jill Hudson Neal,SUN STAFF

The newly appointed county substance abuse impact coordinator says she'll push for more alcohol reduction and prevention courses in schools and programs encouraging parental involvement in youth drug issues.

Helen L. Sutusky, who began her job yesterday, said county officials must take tough stances against use of heroin, alcohol and tobacco among teens.

"We have to do something about getting to these kids when they're very young and getting to their parents as soon as possible," said Sutusky, 47, an administrative assistant in the Substance Abuse Impact Office the past four years. "The sooner we get to parents and the longer they stay involved in their children's lives, the better chance they have to delay their kids' involvement with drugs of all kinds."

She was chosen for the $41,044-a-year job because she has shown she can do the work -- substituting twice when former officials left the job -- and because of her many community contacts, said county Administrative Officer Raquel Sanudo.

"We don't want a clinical person; we wanted a person with a background in the community," Sanudo said of the post, which is designed as "a coordinator-type position."

Sutusky said her office will help develop state, county and community grant proposals to pay police officers overtime to patrol local restaurants and convenience stores to make sure teen-agers aren't smoking or buying cigarettes.

She is passionate about keeping children away from cigarettes and other tobacco products. Sutusky calls tobacco a "gateway drug" to other, harder narcotics like heroin.

"We still have a heroin problem in our county, especially with people between the ages of 18 and 25," she said. "I believe if they hadn't started smoking, they probably wouldn't have tried heroin. Young people who smoke feel like they're invincible."

Sutusky's concerns about heroin use among teens in Howard was underscored by the death in June of Damien Massella, 17, a recent graduate of Glenelg High School who died from a heroin overdose.

News of his death reverberated throughout the county and made real the warnings of Howard police, who for months had been talking about the emergence of heroin in the county. Police, school officials and parents are concerned that people who don't like needles will buy inexpensive heroin being sold pure enough to sniff.

But Sutusky said that while heroin use is increasing, alcohol remains the drug of choice among young people.

"We'll be looking to start more alcohol reduction and prevention courses in the schools," Sutusky said. "We'd also like to talk to mothers' groups and parents whose children are in preschool. Making parents more aware of potential drinking problems now is key. We want them to see that kids do as they do and that they have to set the tone. Getting people back to thinking about family values again is very important."

Sutusky, born and raised in Upperville, Va., said her father worked on the horse farm of Paul Mellon, the recently deceased philanthropist and art collector.

After attending flight attendants' school, Sutusky married and moved to Columbia in 1975.

Sutusky worked as a administrative assistant at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory for 10 years and has worked as a part-time medical secretary for a local medical practice.

She also served on the Harper's Choice Village Board and worked for such organizations as the PTSA, Atholton Youth Recreation Association and Boy Scouts.

"All the years that I was a stay-at-home mom, I tried to remain a community-oriented person," Sutusky said. "I was very active, and I often worked to bring a mom's touch to the projects that I was involved in."

Sutusky is the mother of two sons, both students at Wilde Lake High School.

Sun staff writer Larry Carson contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 2/23/99

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