2011-06-09 / News

Islander testifies before Senate Committee on drug abuse

By Ken Shane

Jamestown resident Laura Hosley recently testified before the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism. The purpose of the hearing was an attempt to determine the extent of prescription drug abuse and what programs might be implemented to combat the problem, which is growing at alarming rates, particularly among teenagers.

Hosley works for Rhode Island Student Assistance Services where she is the manager of community prevention. In that role she oversees a Drug Free Communities Grant for North Kingstown.

“I work with the Community Coalition and help the town with their ordinances, their school policies, any technical programs like the prescription drug take-back program that they just did,” Hosley said.

Hosley also lends her expertise on the subject to her home town. “I have been coordinating the Jamestown Prevention Coalition for about 18 years. I’ve always felt that I needed to share my expertise with my own community.”

“We meet once a month in Jamestown,” Hosley continued. “We have quite a wide variety of people. We have representatives from the schools, the town council, the rec department, the police, parents, kids. So we can all get together and figure out what needs to happen in Jamestown specifi- cally.”

The invitation for Hosley to testify in Washington, D.C., came about in a rather roundabout way.

“The Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America had contacted key people in the states that the senators on this one committee were from,” she said. “The senator they wanted us to connect with was Sen. Whitehouse. My boss was supposed to be on the conference call but she couldn’t make it. I took the call.”

Hosley said she then went online to see how she could connect with Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse. She saw that he was going to be at a dinner in Woonsocket that night, so she prepared all of her information and drove north to Woonsocket to meet with him. She said he was looking for somebody to come down and testify about the prescription drug issue.

“He contacted our agency,” Hosley said, “and my boss said, ‘You’re going.’”

Hosley didn’t have much time to prepare her testimony. “I had a week to prepare a 10-page statement of record. Having worked in the field I have a lot of colleagues. I called Mark Matoes who lives in Jamestown and is a narcotics offi cer in Newport. He had all the information about the prescription drug take-back program and which communities collected how many pounds.

“Between all of my resources and doing some research I was able to put together this statement of record. Then I had to take it down to five minutes to speak in front of the Senate subcommittee. At the end I felt like it was succinct and that the pieces that were left in were all important and valuable.”

The idea of testifying was not particularly daunting for Hosley, who has testified at the Rhode Island State House a number of times. “I always feel like I probably know more about these issues than the people who are up there, because they can’t know everything,” she said. “I see it as an opportunity to share the information that I have.”

The problem that the subcommittee looked into is relatively new. She said that they have worked on tobacco, underage drinking and other drug use, but prescription drug abuse they are “kind of behind.”

Although the prescription drug abuse problem is widespread among many segments of the population, Hosley is primarily concerned with young people. According to Hosley, a 2010-11 survey by Rhode Island SurveyWorks reports that 11 percent of high school students have tried painkillers without a doctor’s prescription.

In Hosley’s opinion, access to these dangerous drugs is far too easy. “They’re in medicine cabinets. First of all, I think this stuff is over-prescribed, and second of all, I think that the prescriptions themselves are for too long of a term.”

Despite the proven success of prevention programs in the schools, federal funding is being threatened. “When communities get funding to work on the issue, it works. They can do more. They can educate, they can outreach, they can encourage the police to cooperate,” Hosley said.

“It is not just federal funding for coalitions, but also federal funding for student assistance programs,” she added. “That’s the program where a counselor is in the school, and students and family have access to that person to talk about issues. They’re accessible where the kids are, and it’s very effective. It’s another program that’s in jeopardy because of cuts in federal funding.”

Hosley, who has teenage children of her own, is concerned about their future. “This stuff is very scary,” she said. “Many of them don’t use the prescription drugs in isolation. They’ll drink alcohol with them or use other prescription drugs. It’s not like it’s happening somewhere else.

It’s happening right here.”

Hosley is determined to get her message out to parents and grandparents. She said that guardians should be aware of what is in their medicine cabinets and that they should talk to their children about the issues.

“I’m hoping it does have an impact,” she said. “That’s why I do what I do, hoping to make a difference.”

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