The drug and alcohol crises are an abomination destroying society, the Rev. Charles R. White said Thursday, as he unveiled a grass-roots plan to combat the problem through educational programs, better treatment for abusers and more stringent enforcement.
"We can talk about being a city of good neighbors, but if we don't talk about solving this problem, alcohol and drug abuse will do us in," said Mr. White, executive director of the Buffalo Area Metropolitan Ministries.
Mr. White made his comments at a press conference where the findings of an interim report on the drug crisis were unveiled. The report was compiled by a 54-member drug task force appointed by the Common Council and headed by White.
The task force is composed of community activists, politicians, the heads of several alcohol and drug treatment agencies, law enforcement officials and others.
Formed in January, the task force found that although drug and alcohol use is less prevalent in Buffalo than in other cities, their consumption is on the rise and could become a more serious problem unless a concerted effort is made to curtail it.
Now that the interim report is completed, the task force plans to collect public reaction through eight public hearings that begin Wednesday and end June 26. From those meetings and its own findings, the task force plans to issue a final report that will help guide future efforts to fight drug use and alcohol abuse.
"We're in the business of finding out together how this problem can be solved," Mr. White said.
The interim report found that drug and alcohol awareness programs need to be initiated in schools, community organizations, churches and workplaces. In addition, it said the city needs to collect more data on the extent of the problem.
"More needs to be done in preventive education," said Joan Levine, director of three drug and alcohol prevention agencies. "More services need to be provided in each school."
The report also calls for tougher laws for drug dealers and asks for more police and other law enforcement officials.
About 25 percent of all convictions by the district attorney's office, for instance, are related to the use or sale of drugs, said First Deputy District Attorney Frank C. Clark. Yet only three of 85 assistant district attorneys prosecute drug cases full time, he said.
"We personally do not have adequate resources to deal with the problem from a law enforcement standpoint," Clark said.
"We want more manpower; we want more resources," said Police Capt. Charles Fieramusca, head of the Narcotics Bureau. The task force also called for more funding for treatment facilities and to hire qualified people to work with drug and alcohol users.