I'd like to share a story about one of America's most beloved summer destinations and the overreaching effects that drugs have brought to its shores.
It's a Cape Cod you might not recognize, but it's a good story in that it carries a powerful lesson for all communities.
And it's not so much a story about drugs as it is the effects that ignorance brings when people close their shutters to the truth.
I lived on Cape Cod for 22 years and when I first moved there, it was a sleepy place where fisherman wore waders and lobster boats bobbed in the surf. There was one stoplight in the town where I lived and I had to drive a long way just to buy a pair of socks or a laundry basket.
It was a place of salty air, seaside mansions, and sandcastles. We felt protected from the rest of the world there.
But that didn't last forever.
Imagine our surprise when the young adults in our community started dying from drug overdoses; when home invasions, bank robberies, and theft became part of the day; when 80 percent of the crimes tried in the local courts were drug related.
It was like a slow, insidious disease that gained momentum.
Denial fanned the fire.
By the time the deaths of our children became an epidemic, and record numbers of babies were being born addicted to opiates, and crime was rampant, it was almost too late.
The only drug treatment center on the Cape was overwhelmed. There were no organizations to pick up the slack and the problem was relegated to area law enforcement to handle, along with a few over worked social service offices.
It was a nightmare.
Parents were desperate to find their children help but there were very few places to turn. The schools, the local media, and the town councils all but turned their heads. This was the fabled Cape Cod we were talking about, with its graceful seaside porches, its famous residents, its lofty reputation. No one was eager to break the silence and address the reality before them.
And so our children died.
I remember so many of our losses: the young nursing student from the Cape who attended prestigious Boston College who died of a heroin overdose the day after Christmas in 2009. More than a handful of students from our high school also died, but it touched each and every one of our nine Cape Cod towns. Pretty soon our little peninsula had the second highest overdose rate in the state of Massachusetts.
The stories reached beyond economically deprived youth--young adults from every walk of life were involved and the problems involved families both rich and poor.
No one was exempt.
What became apparent was that the drug problem had to be tackled on several fronts: It wasn't just an issue for the police. The local media, the schools, government organizations, political bodies and parents had to come together to address the problem as a united front. Parents needed resources, kids needed treatment and the schools had to lend a hand in prevention.
And so the drug issue on Cape Cod crept from the closet like a one-eyed monster. It made national headlines in newspapers like the New York Times.
Things are getting better there: Parents have formed support groups, vigils take place in the parks, more resources are being offered and a task force was formed. There are drug symposiums and drug conferences and guest speakers in the schools.
But still, it's going to take a long time before the Cape becomes a sleepy little place again. Crime is still rampant and dozens of people have overdosed in just the past year.
But there are signs of progress--and all because awareness has grown.
That's the moral of the story here: awareness.
Drugs are not just a law enforcement issue; they're a public health problem.
And drug addiction is not just a moral failing; it's a disease.
Once we can all agree on that, we can work together to keep our citizens healthy and our communities safe and prosperous.