I posted the following at Parking Lot and gopt a bunch of responses that I am preserving here. Feel free to add to the ideas below

I am currently working with a small community which is having a serious problem with drugs among their youth. In a meeting with community leaders the same solutions came forward, most notably that the police need to enforce laws better (they don't), the local government needs to do more (it won't) and the dealers need to be run out of town (but no one will do it).

I suggested that, in the face of the evidence, none of these solutions are the magic bullet. So far none of what NEEDS to happen is actually happening. So what is the answer?

I am increasingly thinking that this small community is facing what many have identified as the fundamental problem with the global "war on terror." A small number of unorganized people are wrecking havoc on the community and the organized structures (police, local government) are basically so mired in structure that they are unable to respond.

So what I am thinking is that a self-organized response is what is needed. The drug problem is essentially a self-organizing issue, with an unrestricted economy, drug use spreading like a viral meme and nobody in charge. The only way to beat the scourge is to self-organize against this. And so to this end, we have been considering using Open Space Technology to create a self-organized response to this problem, and we are starting with the community leadership group I work with. We have already started a little with people thinking about neighbourhood watch and other citizen based initiatives. The leadership group has also been working on larger and more systemic solutions to make the community more youth friendly and supportive of healthy behaviour, but these take a long time and the drugs are killing people right now.

What I'm curious about is whether or not anyone out there has seen examples of communities self-organizing to meet a self-organized or chaotic issue like this?

No offense, but I think you're going about it the wrong way. You cannot stop drug use by cutting out the supply side, it just doesn't work. Profits on illegal drugs are so high that organized crime will always have more money and resources. They also have less scruples so the harder you fight them the harder they will kick back. You can see this on the large scale: despite pouring billions of dollars into a war on drugs in South America, there has been no progress on the streets.

What you need to do is attack the root cause of why kids use drugs. It helps to understand that adolescence is a 20th century construct, for thousands of years before youth performed adult responsibilty and were treated as full members of society. Get talking to the kids and I bet you'll find that most of them are bored, have problems at home, feel alientated from society and are emotionally unequipped to deal with adulthood.

Most drug peddlers are addicts themselves, picking up the business to support their habit. Treat the addict and you'll turn a dealer into an evangelist with street cred, something your cops won't have with youth. Will Pate | Homepage | 06.04.04 - 4:22 pm | #

There's one element that I've always found missing from any effort against drugs, and that is a basic recognition that even when you're an addict, there may still be good in your life.

I'm not saying that being on drugs is good, only that if you treat people as if their whole life is terrible, and you've com to rescue them, you're automatically creating a chasm, that makes real contact and trust very difficult.

Meet them on the basis of what is good in their life - not with the pre-conceived idea that they're on hell.

Appreciative Inquiry is one very good tool for doing so. Alexander Kjerulf | Homepage | 06.04.04 - 4:35 pm | #

I've had long chats with a friend who, as a psychologist, deals both with "treatment" and "prevention".

He's come to see it as a "personal" problem. Each person should become "immune" to drugs, and perhaps to addictions in general.

Now you add the "social" and "self-organising" view to that. So each person might get "help from his/her friends" (Lennon & McCartney?). And also *give* help. "How can people here help each other to become and stay immune to drugs?"

People at http://aland.burngreave.net/community/health/ have tried helping the community to self-organise regarding "chronic diseases". In a very specific way, I think "drugs" belong there.

Of course, it's a good "theme" for an OST (I'd like to participate in one!), and it might be better if you had "invited stars", as long as it's the responsibility of the "present" ones.

It may also take some lateral thinking on specific foci: how to help the police, how to help the mothers, how lgs | Email | Homepage | 06.04.04 - 4:44 pm | #

Agreed - there's "positive psychology" by some famous psychologist. Another friend also in drugs treatement and prevention tells me positive psychology works.

Maybe this is yellow hat thinking or whatever.

Assets Based Community Developement - ABCD. lgs | Email | Homepage | 06.04.04 - 4:47 pm | #

No wonder we're not connecting with youth - look at our vocabulary: assets mased community developement, lateral thinking, appreciative inquiry and my own use of the words "supply side".

Words like those make youth tune out. You're going to need someone that can speak their language. Will Pate | Homepage | 06.04.04 - 5:32 pm | #

Hi Will nice to find you here.

Chris I like the idea of "paralysis by structure" surely this is the big problem of our time. Government cannot do anything any more. It cannot respond. Schell suggests that the community has to create the alternative. Robert Paterson | Email | 06.05.04 - 5:58 am | #

Will has a point too. ON PEI nearly all the drug issue seems to be rooted in a loss of hope. Robert Paterson | Email | 06.05.04 - 5:59 am | #

Yes, those are all good points AND I'm lookiong for the bigger questions. For sure the community needs hope and youth need to tell their stories and so on. The question remains for me about who will do all of this. And when we come to this question, What I am trying to do is turn folks away from expecting someone else to do it and think about how we can organize those responses ourselves.

So the question becomes "How do I contribute to a community that gives our kids hope?"

That's not a bad theme for an OST meeting...others? Chris Corrigan | Email | Homepage | 06.05.04 - 3:53 pm | #

Keep us informed, please. lgs | Email | Homepage | 06.05.04 - 8:11 pm | #

Chris, that's a good one - it personalizes the responsibility.

Please do keep us informed. Will Pate | Homepage | 06.05.04 - 8:27 pm | #

i agree. personalizing the responsibility feels powerful.

some more questions/observations come to my mind: it sounds like the adults are in just as much need for hope as the kids. and how about safety? that seems to be needed along with hope.

how can i contribute to a safe community that gives hope to ourselves and our children?

and then i wonder...will children/teens be invited and if so, will they feel alienated from the theme as it is talking to adults (by refering to the kids in the third person)? ashley | Email | Homepage | 06.06.04 - 12:25 am | #

K. What comes to mind is seeing the holon of it, include to transcend, sort of restorative akido, so to me if you could organize an opening of space for those on the "other side", dealers, addicts, ect. Once was a time when the streets policed themselves... In the narrative therapy side, find the pockets of resistance in dealers, the addicts, the moral compass burried below their pain, their loss, whats down there thats left out, what's in them thats organizing their lives, is their hope to this musing, I frankly would have to hear that from them??? Dave stevenson | Email | 06.06.04 - 2:51 am | #

Hmm, this thread gets interesting as ... well, very interesting.

It reminds me, for what it's worth, of the Six Hats internet project about Northern Ireland. It's different because Six Hats, not Open Space Technology, was used. But it has an important point of similarity in that many participants ... had to work under nicks/false names. You know: you can't belong to a political party and explore the good points of the adversary's ideas. In this situation, you can't tell people you sell illegal drugs.

So you have to find ways to *really* open the space. For Hats, for OST, for anything.

There was a way to do that that I learned from a method designed to study student's risk perception regarding HIV/AIDS: tell them to talk in their proxies's name. As in "Have your school-mates tried intravenous drugs?" Their replies were believed to be more reliable than if asked in first person.

Ok, I hope this helps. lgs | Email | Homepage | 06.06.04 - 10:39 am | #

great idea chris! i wriggled around in this bigger space and added some more bits here...

hello all. i think your questions are really important ones ashley. a couple of years ago, we invited our community to an evening of conversation about teens, parents and drugs. included in the group were teens of all ages, a few early 20 somethings, parents, grandparents, the police, teachers and youth leaders. we also invited a woman who works in schools as a drug educator. a few of us started out by telling stories. then the educator gave detailed information about all the drugs currently out there and level of risk for each. just facts. her non-judgemental approach was really critical to opening the conversation and raised some important conflicts right up front. for instance, when she talked about ecstacy, she warned of the unreliability in chemical make-up and that if anyone was going to do it, they should have it tested...and provided info on where to go. so with everyone on the same page with the same facts, we got into some deeper levels of beliefs about drug use. it was a great way to build collective responsibility and a great way to surface misconceptions, heads in sand, gaps in education, fear, judgements....but most of all, it surfaced the level of care we all have for our kids, friends and the health of relationships. it was an evening of truth finding at it's finest!

penny | Email | 06.06.04 - 12:30 pm | #

With respect to hope, you might want to talk to the folks at http://www.powerofhope.org/ -- I think you know Stephen Silha, Chris, ya? Nancy


I'm thinking about The Tipping Point--identifying things which are small enough to tackle, which work against entropy.

I'm not on my own computer at the moment, but when I am home I will send you an e-mail address for Laura Porter, so you can find out some of the innovative work she has done with small and large communities through the Family Support program in Washington State.

They have helped communities work against youth drug use by tackling some of the root causes. One project worked to identify vulnerable kids and strengthen their network of relationships. One project worked against meth labs by a number of methods, including monthly family potlucks so families knew each other, and had a common perception of the problem. Their program is based on solid research and principles, and keeps good track of outcomes.

Good luck!


Thanks Joelle and Nancy...

Today I found the classic Atlantic Monthly (http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/crime/windows.htm) article on broken windows, which might give us some insight too:

"We suggest that "untended" behavior also leads to the breakdown of community controls. A stable neighborhood of families who care for their homes, mind each other's children, and confidently frown on unwanted intruders can change, in a few years or even a few months, to an inhospitable and frightening jungle. A piece of property is abandoned, weeds grow up, a window is smashed. Adults stop scolding rowdy children; the children, emboldened, become more rowdy. Families move out, unattached adults move in. Teenagers gather in front of the corner store. The merchant asks them to move; they refuse. Fights occur. Litter accumulates. People start drinking in front of the grocery; in time, an inebriate slumps to the sidewalk and is allowed to sleep it off. Pedestrians are approached by panhandlers.

At this point it is not inevitable that serious crime will flourish or violent attacks on strangers will occur. But many residents will think that crime, especially violent crime, is on the rise, and they will modify their behavior accordingly. They will use the streets less often, and when on the streets will stay apart from their fellows, moving with averted eyes, silent lips, and hurried steps. "Don't get involved." For some residents, this growing atomization will matter little, because the neighborhood is not their "home" but "the place where they live." Their interests are elsewhere; they are cosmopolitans. But it will matter greatly to other people, whose lives derive meaning and satisfaction from local attachments rather than worldly involvement; for them, the neighborhood will cease to exist except for a few reliable friends whom they arrange to meet.

Such an area is vulnerable to criminal invasion. Though it is not inevitable, it is more likely that here, rather than in places where people are confident they can regulate public behavior by informal controls, drugs will change hands, prostitutes will solicit, and cars will be stripped. That the drunks will be robbed by boys who do it as a lark, and the prostitutes' customers will be robbed by men who do it purposefully and perhaps violently. That muggings will occur.

Among those who often find it difficult to move away from this are the elderly. Surveys of citizens suggest that the elderly are much less likely to be the victims of crime than younger persons, and some have inferred from this that the well-known fear of crime voiced by the elderly is an exaggeration: perhaps we ought not to design special programs to protect older persons; perhaps we should even try to talk them out of their mistaken fears. This argument misses the point. The prospect of a confrontation with an obstreperous teenager or a drunken panhandler can be as fear-inducing for defenseless persons as the prospect of meeting an actual robber; indeed, to a defenseless person, the two kinds of confrontation are often indistinguishable. Moreover, the lower rate at which the elderly are victimized is a measure of the steps they have already taken--chiefly, staying behind locked doors--to minimize the risks they face. Young men are more frequently attacked than older women, not because they are easier or more lucrative targets but because they are on the streets more."

Hm, this also goes to Hawkins and Catalano's asset based work. I can dig up refs if this is not already in your repertoire! - N

How do you define 'serious problem with drugs'? Is it parents complaining that their kids are using drugs, or is it people seeing kids hanging out on street corners smoking pot? Are there a number of crack houses in the area?

Most drugs (at least non-opiates) are a lot less dangerous (in terms of health risk associated with ongoing moderate use) than many people believe.

What else do the youth of your community have available as stimulation or responsibility? As WillPate? noted, drug use is often filling space. What 'power' do youth have?

--BillSeitz? http://webseitz.fluxent.com/wiki/WarOnDrugs

Any refs would be great Nancy...thanks.

Bill to your point...it's a small rural community far from a big city, but near a small city. The police don't come out to the community, and there is little trust there.

The drug problem centres around crystal meth, heroin and cocaine as well as bootleg alcohol being provided to minors. I'm sure there's lots of pot being consumed, but that's not unusual for British Columbia, nor is it particularly remarkable. There are a few known drug houses and the dealers are known to most people in the community.

The community has a couple of youth workers, and leadership is considering hiring a youth worker to coordinate recreation, but bottom line is that there isn't much to do. The point about youth power is a good one and something to consider.

Results of the problem, other than addiction, include violence, suicide and theft, notably from the older people in the community and senior family members of addicts.

I'm familiar with many drugs and their effects and work with communities where drug use is frequent. I'd say this community has a problem, and that's what they are saying too.

Thanks for the questions.