College Hosts Illicit Drug Conference
Published: Tuesday, October 25, 2005
Updated: Friday, April 15, 2011 17:04
Trinity hosted "The Illicit Drugs - Burden and Policy" conference last weekend at Mather Hall as a multidisciplinary effort to educate individuals about the many facets of the drug problem in the Hartford area with a focus on current setbacks with resources, ineffective drug policy and the inefficiency of current solutions. The two-day event brought together "law enforcement groups, [individuals from] state agencies [and non-profit organizations], state and city representatives, and national experts with creative talents to meet the drug scourge head on," said an official from the City of Hartford. Social workers discussed more effective ways of treatment, and recovering addicts personally expunged on challenges they faced in recovery and how current laws delayed their progress. The conference tried to include all the relevant viewpoints for this discussion. Student representatives were even present to speak about the experiences of youth. This assortment also included church leaders and concerned citizens.
The conference was valuable and personal to the residents of Hartford, because there are a significant number of disrupted neighborhoods in the capital; the drug problem is destroying what the city is trying to build up, explained Mayor Eddie Perez in his speech to attendees. Mirelle Friedman, Executive Director of the Capital Area Substance Abuse Council, complemented this by indicating that Hartford is the second poorest medium-sized city, after Brownsville, Texas, with a population of 124,848 and a mean income of $13,428. Hartford is the seventh most violent medium-sized city in the nation and has the highest rate of minorities (93 percent) in New England. Ivan Kuzyk, an independent researcher, added that 64 percent of 24-year-old males have been arrested in the last five years.
Perez commented on the variety of participants that created a unique atmosphere of open discussion with a wide range of viewpoints. Although there were formal speakers with a purely objective and educational motive, the conference was focused on promoting dialogue, and speakers were interrupted with applauses of approval or sometimes angry hecklers. The question and answer sessions were also filled with a range of individuals, some of whom expressed their approval at an idea for change, while others challenged and criticized the speakers' advocacies.
Speakers and discussions brought to light significant and newly arising problems with drug policy, correctional institutions, and treatment opportunities, with their collective goal focused on ways that communities and policy makers can reverse these worrisome trends. Robert Painter, the Minority Leader for the City of Hartford and the organizer of the conference, emphasized the activist approach of the conference, which was strengthened by bringing together this extremely diverse but motivated group together in a common place to spur positive change.
Scarlett Swedlow, the Executive Director of Students for a Sensible Drug Policy, explained "there is more hope on the local level," because it is a more realistic approach than national legislation, and the social effects of these new ideas will also be more quickly evident. Swedlow also suggested that local activism can be an extremely effective model for others.
The City of Hartford, and specifically Painter, presented and organized the conference, while Trinity provided space (the Washington Room), as well as food and staff. Trinity's interest in this issue is important as a mode of outreach to the community and also as a way to create a safer environment for students when they explore Hartford.
At the end of the conference, there were breakout sessions in which participants created a concrete plan as to what the next steps should be to respond to this epidemic. The focus was on policies, effective treatment, and youth.
A large and divisive issue during the conference was about how to deal with prisons and punitive laws. Theresa Lantz, the Commissioner of the Department of Corrections (DOC), changed the mission statement of prisons from one focused on security and order to also emphasizing successful reintegration for past offenders. She indicated that 85 percent of persons in correctional facilities have substance abuse history but only 26 percent are receiving some sort of treatment, and this still costs around $11 million per year. She is attempting to make prisons more effective, but the constant reentry of offenders suggests that the root problem is not being addressed.
Opponents argue that this ineffectiveness costs taxpayers an inconceivable amount of money. Maureen Price-Boreland, Executive Director of Community Partners in Action indicated that maintaining a prisoner for one year costs an average of $27,700 without any special programs, and the cost rises to the mid-$30,000s with specific programs, almost equal to the tuition for Trinity College.
Roger Goodman, the Director of the Drug Policy Project and an attorney from King County, Washington, and suggested that instead of detaining law-breakers, the DOC should immediately shift them to social services that focus on solutions. This way the money used to incarcerate criminals can be transferred to make the services more effective.
The lack of focus on recovery is also evident in that users are eight times more likey to overdose right after getting out of prison than at any other time in their life, said Robert Heimer, an Associate Professor at Yale University.
Michael Askew, Peer Service Coordinator for the CT Community for Addiction Recovery and a recovering addict, said "the prison system closes doors to people who need it most." When people continue to reappear in court due to a drug problem, judges just keep re-incarcerating, rather than trying to address the root problem, he continued.
The problem is so severe, because "addiction is a complex process with social, personal, and biological factors" that takes an extraordinary amount of effort and patience to be rid of, explained Ronald Fleming, the Clinical Director Alcohol and Drug Recovery Centers. It is often compounded with other problems, such as cross-addiction and mental illness.