For the past six months, I have attended the public forums and workshops on poverty and early childhood education in Erie and America. It is agreed that many factors cause poverty, but I will focus on issues with which I have professional experience and knowledge.
I am a registered pharmacist, and during my 35-plus years as Director of Pharmacy Services, both in government and the private industry, I have taught thousands of individuals about drug, alcohol and health issues. To increase and support early educational endeavors for our children, we must first address the abuse of drugs, both legal and illegal, and alcohol.
I was the first pharmacist on the East Coast to start the “Methadone Program” with Dr. B. Kissin in Brooklyn in the early 1970s, dispensing methadone and counseling addicts on the dangers of heroin and other drugs that could kill them or their unborn child.
I have collaborated, assisted and cooperated with local police departments, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and school programs such as Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.). I have also been a community instructor on medication management.
At the May 27 Economic Summit on Early Childhood Education, Dr. Judy Cameron, a University of Pittsburgh neuroscientist, gave a presentation on “The Science of Early Brain Architecture and the Future of Early Childhood Policy.” Yet there was no discussion relative to the environmental factors in a household. How many children are exposed to secondary/passive illegal and legal smoke? When a mother inhales illegal substances (marijuana and crack cocaine), the effect on the developing fetus is magnified two- to 10-fold.
Our counseling program in Brooklyn had an average success rate of 30 percent with females (some pregnant, some not) who asked me questions that I answered in plain truth: “If you keep this up, you are going to die early or you are going to lose your baby. Period.”
Those in the methadone program who did not pass the drug screen were dropped from the program after one warning. Addicts developed trust because I talked to them in confidence and was a source of good and reliable drug information. I was “the man” who knew drugs.
Many will counter this point because of their agendas. Medical marijuana has been legalized in 14 states. The dummying up of America will continue if we don’t educate individuals that marijuana has equal or more toxic effects than alcohol. It is only when deaths hit families and friends that the anti-drug message sinks in.
In the past 20 years, the family has fragmented so that there is no male hero for the child. There was an added positive response from those I helped when they came from a family unit with a mother and father, because family members have to reinforce this message.
Why has there been such an increase in Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in our children during the same time period? The fact is that drugs change the maturing of cells in the body and the brain. The mere fact that we are addressing early education for children after birth but are not addressing the effects of both legal and illegal drugs before birth, resulting in mental retardation, a decrease in the attention span and learning abilities of that young child in school, is somewhat backward.
There is debate about whether poverty causes drug abuse or drug abuse causes poverty. I believe it’s the latter.
I recommend a written contract/commitment between parent(s) and assistance program managers (private or government-run) with specific guidelines to decrease the usage of illegal drugs. If the commitment is to raise a person out of poverty, then there has to be a commitment from the person to help themselves, too.
If the government orders that all recipients who receive government financial support, not including the elderly or those with disabilities and legitimate medical conditions, must submit to random drug urine tests, there will be a drastic drop in drug abuse and subsequently a reduction in poverty. If an individual fails the drug test twice in 60 days, they would forfeit financial support for 12 months and be required to attend a drug-abuse program to re-enter the program. If they fail again, they should be permanently removed from all government-assistance programs.
Many citizens have to submit to random drug screens, at any time, when we are employed but those receiving government funds have no responsibility or accountability to either the government, the program or themselves. Why do we hold these individuals to different standards?
When programs don’t contain measurements, standards and contracts for accountability, they will fail and poverty will continue.
Let me close with two quotes: “All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered the point is to discover them” (Gallileo) and “Is silence an endorsement?” (Aliota).
LOU ALIOTA of Millcreek Township, is a registered pharmacist and is a private health-care consultant.
Source: Op-Ed from Erie Times-News (Erie, Pa.) – August 20, 2010