From the Back Pew: Let's end the abuse

This week, I was privileged to attend the second meeting of the Saving Lives Glendale Coalition, of which I am a member.

The coalition is working at a time when drug and alcohol abuse is at the forefront of community attention, not just in Glendale, but all over our state, especially with Proposition 19 — the measure that would legalize marijuana in California — on the November ballot.

Headed by Chabad of Glendale and the Foothills Communities spiritual leader Rabbi Simcha Backman, the coalition held its first meeting several months ago. Our goal was to outline what we, as community members, can do to reduce the instances of alcohol and drug abuse among our city's youth.

The mission statement of the coalition reads as follows: "Reduce alcohol, tobacco and other drug problems among Glendale-area youth using proven public-health and -safety strategies that reduce availability." The coalition is made up of 12 sectors of our community, including media, representatives from the Glendale Unified School District, Glendale Police Department, religious leaders, parents, students, state-government representatives and business leaders, among others.

Our objectives are as follows: intentional organizing, such as this week's meeting; applied data and research to show us the impact, or lack thereof, we are making; media advocacy, getting the word out about our efforts; policy change, working with city councils, for example, to better meet our goals; and enforcement, where necessary — that is, making visible changes in the community that will ultimately reduce the chance of youth abusing drugs and alcohol. One example of this could be working with a liquor-store owner and having him close up shop earlier than usual on football nights in order to prevent loitering and potential alcohol abuse.

Or there could be a park somewhere in Glendale where kids are known to congregate and smoke cigarettes, get high or drink. What strategies could be implemented to discourage this activity? More police or community patrols? Better lighting? Fence the area at night?

"We need to take away these little environments that are incentives for kids to go do drugs," said Backman.

However, drug- and alcohol-abuse prevention can begin in the very homes in which these kids live. According to Backman, parents do not realize the impact they have on their kids. Drug and alcohol abuse can start at home when a child encounters an unlocked wine closet or medications in a medicine cabinet. We are not here to attack moms and dads or to criticize their parenting skills. Rather, we hope to get this information to them instead of having parents come to us and sit in meetings for hours on end.

One representative at this week's meeting made an excellent point, asking, "What good is a parent meeting about this if only 30 families out 6,000 attend?"

This information needs to be disseminated through the schools. Or even through public-service announcements on local television stations.

"Instead of attacking, we are looking at things causing the problem," said Backman. "We are putting [this information] in their face where they will have to come across it."

The coalition is steadfastly reaching out into the community. Over the next several months, we will get together to develop strategies in the community to address drug and alcohol abuse, utilizing the resources of the 12 sectors I mentioned above.

For more information on this new coalition, e-mail Backman at

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