Toward a healthy community
Summit a welcome opportunity to brainstorm solutions
Like most Chicoans, we hope the Community Action Summit on alcohol and drug abuse taking place Friday, Feb. 22, at Chico State’s BMU Auditorium produces good results. As 28 community leaders said when they issued “A Call for Community Action” in January, and as has been said many times in the past, Chico has a serious drinking problem. The summit hopes to involve citizens in an interactive process designed to come up with ways to make this a healthier community.
The problem transcends age and socioeconomic differences. There is too much drunken driving and alcohol-fueled domestic violence, too many alcohol-involved auto accidents and too many emergency-room visits, fights and arrests, and too many young people dying from overdoses. And it’s not just alcohol—prescription drugs, methamphetamine and even marijuana contribute their own brands of poison.
Part of the reason for the problem, of course, is that people make money selling these substances, whether legally or illegally. They have an interest in selling as much as possible. So naturally they want to create an environment in which the consumption of these substances is considered normal, even worthwhile.
As the original “A Call for Community Action” notes, “We need to confront the availability and low cost of drinks at downtown bars; the advertising and bar guides that promote cheap and excessive drinking; the lack of consequences for landlords who permit out of control parties; the impression that some businesses turn a deaf ear to safety concerns; the enforcement of public drinking laws; our approaches to alcohol and drug education; the low number of Friday classes and the amount of work assigned in all classes; and many other topics, however difficult they may seem.”
These are worthy goals. But to be effective, they need to be implemented and sustained over time. Young people, the ones the community most wants to protect, cycle in and out of Chico every few years. The community has made similar efforts to address the problem before, but in time the warnings and recommendations were forgotten, and we were back to the same old lackadaisical, laissez-faire attitude toward the problem—until someone else dies from an overdose.
Ultimately, of course, the solution will be up to the people doing the drinking and drugging and their friends. As “A Call for Community Action” notes, “Education and prevention efforts past and present have helped, but not enough.” Binge drinking, the statement recognizes, has become “acceptable behavior among many young people. When they see blacking out, visiting the drunk tank, or having their stomach pumped as a badge of honor, we have a problem.”
Then, in a poignant reference to Mason Sumnicht, who died last November from an alcohol overdose, the statement says, “When ingesting 21 drinks on your 21st birthday is seen as a rite of passage, instead of risking your life, we have a problem.” Sumnicht’s fraternity brothers should be deeply ashamed of themselves. They stood by while their friend drank himself to death.
An approach the summit might want to consider seriously is one adopted by anti-smoking forces. They have reduced smoking dramatically not only by warning of its health dangers, but also by shaming smokers into quitting—telling them cigarette smoke is offensive to others and that it makes smokers stink.
The same kind of shaming should be brought to bear on people who drink and drug abusively. They should be made to know that their behavior is ugly, offensive and shameful, that the community abhors it, and that anyone who encourages it is behaving just as reprehensibly. It’s a message that needs to be delivered repeatedly until it sinks in. We hope the summit is the beginning of that process.