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After school and summer programs key component of war on heroin addiction

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As the chief of police in Massena, I am glad to see increasing attention to the issue of heroin and prescription drug addiction at the state level.

We have been facing this challenge head-on in our community for quite some time. While the recently published report from the New York State Senate Joint Senate Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction does propose many valuable strategies to combat the crisis facing our communities, it omits a crucial solution we have been cultivating in Massena: afterschool and summer programs.

As we strive to reduce heroin use in Massena, a major focus has been providing positive alternatives for our youth.

We are creating a brand-new Boys and Girls Club of Massena, for which I serve as the president of the board, so that our students will have a safe, educational place to go once the school day ends.

The hours from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. are when our youth are most at risk for substance abuse and criminal behavior, and providing them with better alternatives has to be one of our major prevention strategies. In study after study, participation in after-school programs has been found to reduce drug use—sometimes dramatically. One study of Boys and Girls Clubs in housing projects in New York City found that drug activity dropped 22 percent after the introduction of the clubs.

Good after-school programs do much more than provide a safe place to be, of course. They also offer homework help and academic enrichment activities that increase students’ engagement with school—and ultimately, their chances of graduating.

Individuals without high school degrees are three times more likely to be arrested and eight times more likely to serve jail time. The proven ability of high-quality after-school and summer programs to keep students connected to school and on the path to graduation is a vital part of reducing crime rates and drug abuse across New York State.

Equally important, after-school programs help youth develop their leadership skills. With children as young as 12 years old reporting having tried heroin, we need to be providing our youth with the social and emotional tools to resist drug use from an early age.

We chose the Boys and Girls Club as the model to bring to Massena, largely because of the organization’s decades of experience with successful character development programs. The research on high-quality after-school programs suggests that a wide variety of after-school programs have positive effects on traits such as self-control, sense of purpose, responsibility, and resilience.

We only have to look a few miles to our east to see the success and growth of the Akwesasne Boys & Girls Club, and to our west to see the success (now spanning multiple generations over 50 years) which Ogdensburg has achieved with its Boys & Girls Club.

As the Senate report points out, engaging parents is a crucial part of a long-term strategy to reduce heroin addiction among our youth. Because after-school programs are open until after the work day ends, they can be a very successful method for reaching parents. For those children whose parents are not providing them with the guidance and support that they need, high-quality after-school and summer programs can also provide children with a crucial opportunity to connect with positive role models and mentors.

I am proud of the work our Board of Directors of the Boys and Girls Club of Massena has done. That work will lead to a better set of drug use prevention strategies here in Massena. I also appreciate the many volunteers and supporters who have gotten behind this initiative.

I urge the Senate and the rest of our state leaders to invest in after-school and summer programs as one key solution to the state’s growing heroin and prescription drug abuse crisis.

Timmy J. Currier, Chief of Police

President, Boys & Girls Club of Massena

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