Parents, relatives to push for more drug education in Harford schools

Bill Bloom, of Bel Air, has watched a 19-year-old cousin die from a heroin overdose and his 23-year-old brother struggle with drug addiction.

"There needs to be something in place to help these kids," he said, adding if he can help save one person's life, it will be worth it.

Bloom is one of a handful of parents, relatives and students concerned about the lack of drug awareness programming in the school system. He mentioned specifically that Harford County Public Schools no longer offers the longtime DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) Program.

His group was set to make their voices at Harford County's first budget hearing for the new year, scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 18, at Havre de Grace High School.

Schools spokeswoman Teri Kranefeld said Tuesday the school system has not participated in the DARE program for the last 13 years, but the Harford County Sheriff's Office initiated the GREAT program in 2007.

"It is a six-week program in our elementary schools and 13 weeks in middle schools," Kranefeld wrote in an e-mail. "It is a gang and drug avoidance program." 

A 2007 press release from the sheriff's office describes GREAT (Gang Resistance Education and Training Program) as educating against delinquency, youth violence and gang membership.

The release does not specifically mention drugs, although the program is also sponsored by the county's Office of Drug Control Policy.

Bloom's cousin is Alyssa Whelan, who died at age 19 along with two other Harford young adults who succumbed to heroin within two days, between Dec. 27 and 28.

Joshua Moran, a friend of Ms. Whelan, is also inviting students through Facebook. The students plan to stand holding signs outside the high school where the hearing will be held. They'll also testify as well.

The Facebook page reads: "They have cut drug programs for public education from the budget and we want it back! David Craig wants input from residents of where the tax money should be spent, so we need to let them know! Please keep it peaceful and brings signs!"

As of Tuesday, 10 people on the Facebook Page said they planned to attend and seven said they might come.

Bloom said the DARE program was cut from the budget last year and the school system doesn't have a drug program in place.

"The county was able to get funded for a fed drug task force last year," he later wrote in an e-mail. "I find it to be somewhat ludicrous to not back it up with a program in our schools which would help in the fight with the mission of the task force."

Harford was designated a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area last June by the federal Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Bloom also said he heard an outside program, Addiction Connections Resource Inc., offered its services to the school system and was turned away.

He said something is needed, "whether it's a DARE program or something that is more in the face of these kids."

"We do sex ed for these kids when they are in fifth grade. Why not do the same for these drug programs?" he asked. "We are a wealthy county. There are federal programs that are available."

"I am not necessarily an [PresidentBarack] Obamasupporter, but Obama says we need to be a proactive society. This is reactive," he said.

Bloom said many parents do not even know the drug program was cut, and many students said they just saw the class as a time to goof off.

"I don't think any other parents even realize that these [classes] have been cut. It's not going home in a newsletter," he said.

He said drugs continue to be a major issue in the county, explaining the head of Addiction Connections Resource said she recently had to turn away eight to 10 young people and does not have enough funding.

"The youth – it's ridiculous the way it is," he said. "The numbers are ridiculously high."

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