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The six best U.S. cities for addiction treatment and prevention

Resource type: News

New York Daily News |

Communities in Schools is an Atlantic grantee.

by Dave Moore & Bill Manville

BILL: In my Greenwich Village drinking days, everybody knew “Marvin.” If you wanted a couple of tires for your car, maybe a new TV set, you called him and “put in your order.” He was a pusher with a list of money hungry addicts who’d steal it for you at 50% off retail price.

DR. DAVE: What brings him to mind right now?

BILL: I’d have said that every town and city in America has its share of Marvins. But a recent issue of Forbes Magazine, listing the “Drug Capitals of America,” said that some big cities like New Orleans and Baltimore have higher drug and crime rates than the rest. Dave, how do they know?

DR. DAVE: Their figures are based on geographic drug-use data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and other federal sources.

BILL: Forbes also named small towns like Espanola, New Mexico, which has a drug-related death rate seven times the national average. And in Missoula, Montana, close to one in every seven households reported monthly use of drugs, with meth – surprise, surprise – playing a very large part in those statistics. Dave, you’ve worked all across America. Which cities would you say are the healthiest places to live to avoid active drug addiction?

DR. DAVE: I have a pet list of six.

BILL: With hard data to back why you picked them?

DR.DAVE: What we know with scientific certainty is that addiction prevention begins with a clear and consistent message – chemical dependency is a threat to the health of everyone in that community. The 12 Step Program was born in Akron, Ohio. Without that, we would not have a network of recovery that spans America and the world. So my own list would begin with Akron itself, plus the Twin Cities of Minneapolis-St Paul, Minnesota.

BILL: I know why the Twin Cities made your list – formal addiction treatment was born there. I also remember from my own rehab days that most of the literature and recovery tools we used at Caron treatment centers came from Minnesota’s Hazelden. And next?

DR.DAVE: My award for Best Prevention Performance by a Community would end in a tie between our own Harlem, right here in NYC, and Atlanta, Georgia.

BILL: I can see all the happy folks in Atlanta dancing with their bottles of Coke held high at your acclaim, but did Bill Clinton open a prevention center in his Harlem offices that I don’t know about?

DR. DAVE: In the 1960s, long before the ex-president came along, Harlem community programs realized the truth of prevention: You have to develop prevention villages right in the heart of any community; places where kids can learn, play and grow from sunup to sun-down. Harlem carved out academies that combined schools and community resources that extended into afternoon and evenings. Forty years later, that model has created the largest school-community prevention system in the country: Communities in Schools.

The first CIS community outside of Harlem was in Atlanta. Led by Emory University, this community put parent prevention organizing on the map, including parent groups there that developed the PRIDE Survey – an objective tracking research for parents to monitor substance use and prevention in local schools that is used nationwide.

BILL: You said there were six. So far I count only four.

DR. DAVE: What’s really tough is preparing community re-entry for recovering addicts. The payoff is a reduction in criminality and the health crises that come with active addiction.

BILL: After that lead in, my guess is the city that tops that category is San Diego, California. Maybe I’m prejudiced, because it’s work I did there myself, but I don’t know any community with as extensive a network of halfway houses and clubs for people newly entering recovery.

DR. DAVE: No other city even comes close – and San Diego has had multiple Drug Free Communities awards given to different neighborhoods. Their system is a benevolent effort in cooperation that really works. As Director of Scripps Health Addictions programs in San Diego, I know we wouldn’t have been half as successful without the halfway house systems.

BILL: Do you find that what confounds a lot of towns in their prevention efforts are petty turf wars of money, philosophy and politics? Each group well meaning, but insisting that in fighting drug abuse, it must be done “my way or the highway?”

DR. DAVE: Yes, even to the point where the problem itself is denied. But, Bill, I’ve found one community that has consistently maintained unity across political parties, economic conflicts and philosophical differences. That’s Yakima, Washington. The treatment and prevention providers there share funding so equably that nobody ever has to go out of business and leave a gap in the safety net. When one of their communities built a Drug Free Communities Coalition on top of this framework, they cut youth drug abuse almost in half in 5 years.

BILL: We’ve often stated in this column our belief that “There is No Wrong Door to Recovery.” Would you say that Yakima is living proof of that?

DR. DAVE: Indeed.

Dr. David Moore is a licensed psychologist and chemical dependency professional who is a graduate school faculty member at Argosy University’s Seattle campus. Bill Manville is a novelist and writer whose most recent work, ‘Cool, Hip & Sober,’ is available at online bookstores. Formerly the host of the No. 1 radio show ‘Addictions & Answers,’ he has been sober now for over 20 years.

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