Chesterton Tribune

Drug problem taking toll here

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Every year or so—usually, for some reason, in the winter, when it’s cold and gray and dark—Dunelanders rouse themselves from their seasonal torpor and suddenly, for a month or two, become feelingly aware of a problem which local law enforcement agencies have been battling, with no great success, for years.


The newspapers publish a few stories quoting cops and counselors and maybe a recovering addict, the parents of children who have lost their souls speak of their own pain in Voices of the People and Letters to the Editor, and for a few weeks the drug problem is a water-cooler topic of conversation. Hands are wrung, promises are made, and then spring finally comes, it gets warm and green, and we all forget about the users and pushers among us until the next year.

Not everyone joins the chorus, of course. Some deny the prevalence of drugs, while others see it as someone else’s problem, and certainly this much is true: by no means has every child in the Duneland School Corporation (DSC) experimented, at one time or another, with an illicit drug.

Only slightly more than half of the children.

According to a survey coordinated by the Indiana Prevention Resource Center at Indiana University, in 1999 50.7 percent of seniors at Chesterton High School reported the use of marijuana at least once in their lifetime; 25.2 percent, psychedelic drugs; 24.4 percent, tranquilizers; 23.2 percent, inhalants; 21.2 percent, narcotics; 19.9 percent, amphetamines; 9.6 percent, cocaine; and 4.6 percent, heroin. In every category those numbers were higher—and sometimes significantly higher—than the state average for that year.

If those numbers remain unchanged, the parents of a first-grader in the DSC next fall can look at their child’s class of 20 and know this much: in the next 12 years, roughly five of those kids—maybe their own—will have used LSD.

Four will have used amphetamines.

Two will have used cocaine.

One will have used heroin.

If you’re a parent, how do you like those odds?

And if it’s not your problem, then whose is it?

The Chesterton Town Council has decided that the drug problem is its problem, and at its meeting Monday night members Mike Bannon, R-3rd, and Sharon Darnell, D-4th, used their bully-pulpit to fire the first shot in what they promised would be a long- and hard-fought campaign.

After the meeting Bannon told the Chesterton Tribune that he was inspired to shoulder arms by the “gifts,” as he put it, of three people in particular: Drew Gatewood, Teri Wickburg, Cheryl Lagestee, who in Voices of the People published last month in the Tribune and in words as honest as they were agonized endeavored to alert their neighbors to the scourge of drugs.

For her part Darnell said that she is unwilling any longer simply to listen to the stories of her friends and constituents whose children have lost or are losing their lives to drugs. “Public service is about fighting tough fights, even unpopular fights,” she said. “And this is a life-or-death fight against the pushers who are making money off our children by selling them poison. And against the enablers—sometimes even parents—who put their heads in the sand while the kids are drowning.”

Bannon is unsure exactly where this campaign will lead members, but he did say that the council wants as accurate an assessment of the extent of the problem as possible and will look for guidance to local law enforcement agencies, educators, health-care professionals, substance-abuse experts, and—naturally—parents and children themselves.

But Bannon was also emphatic about the council’s urgent need for input from the public. For input and for its help. “We’re in this thing together,” he said. “The council can get the ball rolling but it won’t roll far and it won’t roll long without the community’s participation. I would love to see a roomful of people at the next council meeting primed with ideas and full of passion.”

Darnell, on the other hand, wants to meet with a judge or two in an effort to learn what options are available to the judiciary in punishing those found guilty of trafficking.


As it happens, one person who’s been on the front lines of the drug problem for the last six years was in attendance Monday night: Laurie Franke-Polz, executive director of the Chesterton/Duneland Chamber of Commerce and one of the founding members of the Porter County Community Action Drug Coalition: CADC, a group of parents, counselors, police officers, politicians, and businesspeople which has been meeting in one form or another since 1998.

As Franke-Polz noted, in the group’s early days—before it took a name—it held a series of public awareness forums in Chesterton and other municipalities in the county. In 2001 it sponsored a “Call to Action” at the Porter County Expo Center, a symposium on the drug problem attended by more than 200 people.

Now CADC—which meets the first Wednesday of every month and is always happy to see new members from any walk of life—is gearing up for a new initiative: a fundraising walk-a-thon at the Coffee Creek Watershed Conservancy on April 17, with the proceeds to go toward the establishment of a drug rehab facility.

Franke-Polz pledged the cooperation and partnership of CADC as the council girds itself for battle. In the meantime, she urged Dunelanders to join CADC and to call the Chamber at 926-5513 for more information on the group and the walk-a-thon.


Posted 3/9/2004