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Clergy join war on drugs
date: 12-March-2006
source : BOSTON.COM
editorial comment editorial comment
It must be easier for them to focus on this than on the war on pedophiles.....

The faith community has joined Saugus's fight against teenage drug and alcohol abuse and related crimes.

The Saugus Clergy Association will hold a drug awareness forum at 7 tomorrow night at Belmonte Saugus Middle School on Dow Street to brainstorm about how to curb excessive drug use, particularly heroin and other opiates.

''We've done enough to raise awareness," said the Rev. Robert G. Leroe, president of the clergy association and pastor of Cliftondale Congregational Church. ''Now we need to talk specifics and develop a course of action."

After-school programs, neighborhood-watch groups, and training for parents to spot signs of drug use are among the methods that clergy members say they believe could decrease drug use among Saugus youth. Other topics, including providing better support for youths and identifying challenges facing parents, also will be discussed.

''As leaders of the faith community, we should have a voice in this," Leroe said. ''We have to be part of the solution to what is clearly a very big problem in Saugus."

In 2004, results of the American Drug and Alcohol Survey showed a higher than average rate of use among Saugus youths, particularly in grades 6 through 12. Forty-six percent of high school seniors and 43 percent of juniors reported having been drunk in the month before taking the survey, compared with a national average of 31 percent.

The survey found 19 percent of the school's freshmen, 30 percent of its sophomores, 30 percent of juniors, and 38 percent of seniors reported having used marijuana in the month before; the national average was 21 percent.

The survey did not measure use of heroin and prescription opiates like OxyContin -- drugs now responsible for an average of two to three overdoses each week in town, and a rash of crimes like armed robbery, Saugus police said.

''They want quick, fast cash, and armed robbery is a way to do it," said Lieutenant Michael Annese, the Saugus police spokesman. ''All the reports I read point to those crimes being linked to the drug problem we have."

The clergy association was invited to join the drug fight by Greg Nickolas, the town's director of youth and recreation. He is also a member of Saugus Speaks Out, a town committee that has been trying to raise awareness about the drug issue since the survey results were released.

The committee sponsored community forums and special programs, including one on parenting tips offered by Essex District Attorney Jonathan W. Blodgett. But Nickolas said too few Saugus parents paid attention. ''We were striking out," he said. ''We had very minimal attendance at events. We were working with businesses, schools and police, and we were still coming up short."

On his own, Nickolas asked the faith community to help. In the fall, he asked to speak about the drug problem in Saugus during religious services. ''I was running around like a roadside prophet," Nickolas said. ''Everybody was great about letting me speak. And now the clergy is taking this very seriously."

In January, the clergy association's first forum drew more than 200 people to Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church. Nickolas is hoping for an even better turnout tomorrow at the middle school.

''People can no longer be complacent about this," he said. ''And with the clergy behind us, we hope people will finally listen."

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