Opening door to drug awareness

Parish: St. Joseph's is holding a community summit to focus on prevention, intervention and treatment.

March 26, 2004|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

After services Sunday, St. Joseph Catholic Community in Eldersburg will invite neighbors into its parish center but not for a social hour. Guests will be given hard lessons on prevention, intervention and treatment of substance abuse.

In response to a parish survey last year that showed widespread concern about drug-abuse and drug-related crime in South Carroll, the parish organized the area's first drug awareness and prevention program outside the public schools.

"We know the schools are doing drug prevention, and we thought we could add to that," said the Rev. Pat Tonry, pastor at St. Joseph. "Church is a good place for the community to come together. The statistics here are fairly high, and any education we can provide can only be helpful to everybody."

Health administrators, counselors and law enforcement officials will staff 20 information booths and answer questions. One display will feature drug paraphernalia.

"We have an extensive display so parents know what drug paraphernalia looks like," said Sue Holt, a county school board member. "Parents will walk out of there with the tools to know if something is going on and what to do if there is."

Fool Proof, a high school acting troupe, will perform skits related to the day's theme. A locally produced, award-winning video, Heroin Kills, will be shown. Police officers will demonstrate detection techniques with trained dogs.

"Prevention is the best way to go, and it works," said Linda Auerback, assistant substance abuse prevention coordinator for Carroll County. "Everyone is affected by the drug problem in some way, even if it's only because your taxes pay for incarceration or treatment."

Carroll Hospital Center handled 422 heroin-related overdoses last year, Auerback said. The majority of the inmates at the county jail are serving sentences for drug-related offenses, she said.

The program will include testimony from parents who have lost children to drugs. Keynote speaker Michael O'Hara, whose 15-year-old son Liam died of a heroin overdose six years ago, will tell his story and play the guitar.

"He has a powerful message that he tells with music and really draws kids in," Auerback said.

At one point during the afternoon, parents and children will be in different rooms. "We will be giving adults some hard-core drug education," Auerback said. "They can learn and teach their children at home."

At Junction Inc., a prevention and treatment center in Westminster, Auerback is seeing younger children, particularly middle-school age, who are experimenting with alcohol and marijuana.

"From what we hear, drugs are into the middle school area," said Tonry, who counsels families in crisis. "Even if we only help one child, this day will be worth it."

Wanda Semies, whose 22- year-old daughter is a recovering addict, volunteers with the Heroin Action Coalition of Carroll County. Two years ago, the coalition asked 27 churches in South Carroll to hold a drug summit to make residents aware of the problem. No church accepted the challenge.

"The religious community in South Carroll has been among the places with closed eyes to the drug problem here," Semies said. "I am glad St. Joseph's, one of the largest churches, is stepping up to the plate. Maybe they can open people's eyes."

The summit comes at an auspicious time, two days before the county holds a workshop on its long-term drug treatment center that is to be built on the grounds of Springfield Hospital Center in Sykesville.

Auerback hopes the summit Sunday will encourage other areas to become involved in prevention efforts.

"St. Joseph's has put together an unbelievable effort, and we are hoping other communities will follow suit," Auerback said.

The program runs from 1:30 to 4 p.m. Sunday at the church, 915 Liberty Road, Eldersburg. 410-848-6100 or 410-795-7838.

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