HOOSICK FALLS -- The Hoosick Armory Youth Center and Community Coalition will hold a town hall meeting titled "In Our Backyard" on Wednesday, April 23, at 7 p.m. The event will be held at the Hoosick Falls Armory, and is open to the public.

A panel of experts in respective fields will discuss the presence of illegal drugs, the threat they pose to the safety of youth and the community and how the community can be involved in solutions.

Hoosick Falls Police Department Assistant Chief of Police Harold McClellan said he believes the meeting will provide a medium for an open dialogue in the community. "It's important because I don't believe people realize how addictive heroin is," he said.

McClellan said the solution depends on communication, and that the best way to prevent the use of opiates is for people to talk with their children and grandchildren so they fully appreciate the dangers of such drugs. "I hope (this meeting) will reach people who don't know how to approach the subject with their children," McClellan said.

It may be difficult for most children to have such an intervention or prevention. Youth who are most susceptible to substance or alcohol abuse come from families where alcohol and/or drugs are prevalent, and often suffer from low self-esteem and depression, according to licensed private practice mental health counselor, Chris Sherman.

Sherman stressed the importance of a positive role model in the lives of children: If not the parents, then other adults who are in the child's life. "It is also important for parents and professionals to recognize the problem signs," he said. "Parents need support from the community so they don't feel alone, stigmatized or ashamed if they or their child is having problems. Families need access to resources and services."

Rutland Police Department Chief of Police James Baker has taken active steps in providing some of those services. He said heroin is a national problem with many explanations, but solutions start at the ground level.

On Wednesday, April 16, Baker attended an executive committee on drug abuse in Washington, D.C., which sought to answer the question, why now so much heroin? "It makes sense from the national and international perspective," Baker said. "There is so much of it at such low prices. Across the U.S., most opiate addiction started from the abuse of pharmaceutical drugs."

Baker said that in most cities, drug overdoses now kill more people than violent acts. "Nationally, they are more focused on battling the drug trade, whereas we are more focused on the issue first hand in the neighborhoods."

Technological aid

In Rutland, Baker serves as the executive director of Project Vision, in which law enforcement works hand-in-hand with the community to start modifying behavior, rather than fighting drug trafficking itself.

Project Vision focuses on specific addresses and individuals with recurring disturbances in Rutland with the use of a crime reports mapping system. The project focuses less on drug investigations, and more so on criminal behavior. Baker said that by doing so, crime analysts can profile people who fit certain criteria, and law enforcement can provide treatment at the basis of criminal behavior, not necessarily drug rehabilitation.

Project Vision is a little over a year old, but Baker expects to see results stemming to drug use and abuse. "I see no reason why these mapping strategies wouldn't work in a smaller town like Hoosick Falls," Baker said. "It helps to provide services and a community watch."

Although technology can provide the means for law enforcement to engage drug issues at the source, it can also aid the potential for drug abuse.

Social media strategist Brian Bushner, of the Business Review, said social media contributes to a growing trend of anonymous communication among youth, which can make it difficult for parents and teachers to monitor social interaction. Social media opens avenues for students to hide communication and for drug dealers to do the same.

"Teenager usage of social media is fragmented," Bushner said. "They are talking to different people on different platforms ... they have increasingly moved to platforms to keep things private, and not share everything to the public."

Bushner said parents, school teachers and staff should work to educate themselves about each social media platform to better understand how teenagers are communicating.

McClellan, Sherman, Baker and Bushner will be on the HAYC3 panel to speak to these points in greater depth. They will welcome input from the public. An individual who has not yet been identified will speak on the panel about the devastating effects of substance abuse from personal experience.

For further information on the meeting, visit the HAYC3 website http://hayc3.org.

Contact Tom Momberg at tmomberg@benningtonbanner.com. Follow him on Twitter @TomMomberg