Port City Aims To Bounce Back From Drug Abuse Of Late 1980s

AROUND 6 a.m. every day on Main Street in Gloucester, a line forms outside the city's methadone clinic, which treats people addicted to heroin.

Even in this picturesque seaside community, many here are struggling with substance abuse. A maritime culture that lends itself to alcohol and other drug abuse is partially responsible, says Philip Salzman, program director of the Gloucester Prevention Network, a nationally recognized drug-prevention program.

Teenagers, in particular, encounter drugs in school and at parties. Kelly Reardon, 16, works with Gloucester junior high school students for the prevention program's tobacco-control division.

One of the problems in Gloucester, she says, is that in the winter months, kids don't have much to do. She and others hope the city will build a teen center. ``In high school, there is nothing to do,'' says Gloucester High School sophomore Erin Palazola. ``We have a movie theater and a high school dance once a month, and that's it.''

Heroin use, especially, has been a problem here. Fishing boats would smuggle the drugs into the city in the late 1980s, and, as a result, there was an unusually high number of overdose deaths. During that time, the city saw one overdose death per month for a period of two years - a rate 10 times the national average, says Mr. Salzman.

After a local newspaper series exposed the problem in 1987, city officials took action. The mayor formed a drug task force and developed a strategic plan. And in 1991, the Gloucester Prevention Network was launched.

The prevention program works through a citywide coalition system: Eleven groups of individuals - including teenagers, political leaders, religious leaders, school teachers, and others -

work to increase public awareness about substance abuse. Some initiatives include a 24-hour hot line to report drug-related crime, organized activities free of drugs and tobacco, and educational programs about prevention for the school and workplace.

Things are now beginning to change. Heroin-related arrests fell from 79 in 1988 to 14 last year. Meanwhile, drunk-driving arrests decreased from 171 in 1988 to 116 in 1993.

But more work needs to be done, says Salzman. ``This is a community that provides hope to other communities,'' he says. ``[But] community mores take a long time to get established, and they take a long time to change.''

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