National alcohol-awareness month opens at city library

The New Haven Free Public Library has won a new ally — the Commission on Substance Abuse Policy and Prevention.

In order to promote awareness of the potentially fatal consequences of alcohol, the New Haven Commission on Substance Abuse Policy and Prevention on Wednesday kicked off National Awareness Month — a series of lectures, presentations and workshops designed to provide free education to city residents — at the New Haven Free Public Library.

In the library’s first-floor seminar room Wednesday, Esther Armmand, the director of New Haven’s CSAPP division, talked to a 12-member audience of teachers, news reporters, researchers and students about the need for the city to focus its attention on the prevention of substance and alcohol misuse.

Armmand has organized alcohol-awareness activities throughout New Haven high schools and elements of the public sector for years, but Wednesday’s event marked the beginning of an alliance between the library and the CSAPP.

“This is a new partnership with the New Haven Library,” she said. “We want to create enough awareness among parents, students and seniors so that we can tackle substance abuse as a single front.”

Several audience members echoed Armmand’s, saying they think the month’s activities are an important way to inform city residents about some of the negative health effects that can result from alcohol, ranging from muscle pain to death. The prevalence of dangerous alcohol consumption and abuse in New Haven has been directly responsible for a recent spike in violent crimes, Armand said.

“In just last year alone, 8,000 residents in New Haven received substance-abuse treatment,” she said. “Substance abuse is the number-one cause of harm in the country, and Connecticut is no exception.”

But treatment, including rehabilitation and counseling, is not enough, she said. Starting this year, the library is joining the CSAPP’s fight to reduce the number of people who must seek treatment by advocating prevention to all age groups.

Paul Nunez, the city’s deputy chief of staff, who oversaw the meeting, said the city is devoted to tackling these problems head-on.

“We want to engage parents to give their children the tools and motivation to discuss substance-related issues without feeling uncomfortable,” he said. “It is our wish to make it easier for teenagers and youths citywide to break the ice and help others who have addictions.”

Attendees interviewed said they were heartened by the message of the meeting. Gary Nelson, a youth program leader at Beecher Middle School, said he has been encouraged by the progress that some of the youth he counsels have made in battling alcohol.

Sunnie Lovelace, a librarian of the “Young Adults” section, said the city has organized awareness-raising events in the past, but only sporadically. This year will be different, she said, because the multitude of events will spur the library to put on similar events during the rest of the year.

“We used to have different events every few months or so, highlighting the consequences of nicotine, drugs, morphine and alcohol,” she said. “Now, we will be able to promote the negative effects of these drugs more consistently.”

Throughout the rest of the month, library officials will air informational films about alcohol abuse at City Hall, local high schools and the library. In addition, the library will host several discussion groups about books, both fiction and nonfiction, having to do with the potentially lifelong health effects of substance abuse, as well as effective prevention techniques.

The month will also feature community get-togethers, including one named From Jail to Yale, led by Narcotics Anonymous, which will teach people about the legal implications of alcohol abuse and ways to decrease substance dependency.

“Teens Breaking Barriers,” a New Haven youth group, will be leading several community building projects in the following months in an effort to bring about long-term change to the community’s perspectives on alcohol.

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