New Haven’s new Office of Substance Abuse Policy and Prevention Commission, or OSAPP, had its first meeting last week to begin discussing strategies for addressing drug addiction in the city. Mayor John DeStefano Jr. attended the inaugural event held in City Hall to spur the start of the commission, which includes in its ranks Assistant Police Chief Douglas P. MacDonald and New Haven Public Schools spokeswoman Katherine Sullivan-DeCarlo.

Esther Armmand, a former Ward 7 alderwoman and current OSAPP director, said DeStefano chose 16 members to represent the variety of voices in the New Haven community. Their backgrounds lie in an array of fields including youth services, business, law, heath care, recovery services, law enforcement, marketing and faith. She said the mix of perspectives on the committee might very well be its greatest strength.

“Something I really like about the commission is the diversity of the group, coming from all walks of life,” said commission member Andrew Eder, the president of a local distribution company.

As many as 11,000 New Haven residents grapple with substance abuse issues, according to the OSAPP, and the commission is charged with exploring ways to help these people. The commission will address some immediate problems such as reducing underage drinking and providing faster access to treatment. In addition, it plans to focus on long-term issues such as promoting a positive attitude toward addiction recovery and continuing substance abuse prevention training at the elementary and middle school level.

Armmand said she thinks the newly-formed committee can work cohesively to tackle tough issues involving substance abuse and recovery.

“Together, we will be able to develop increasingly effective strategies to address the issues of stigma, access to treatment, and greater public understanding of substance abuse,” Armmand said.

The roots of the commission date back to 2000, when DeStefano created a “legacy team” to determine the city’s past accomplishments — and failings — in fighting substance abuse and recommend an ongoing plan. This resulted in the formation of OSAPP in the end of 2000. And in June 2002, DeStefano appointed members to the OSAPP commission to work side-by-side with the office in an advisory role.

Other than a reception in late June, last week’s organizational meeting was the first time all the commission members got to work together. Besides hammering out some basic procedural details, they talked about ways to better educate themselves about treatment options and develop an understanding of New Haven’s substance abuse climate — something both Armmand and Sullivan-DeCarlo said is essential.

“One thing we talked about was we’d like to get a better idea of what’s going on in the city,” Sullivan-DeCarlo said.

The Commission meets on the fourth Tuesday of every month at 8 a.m. in City Hall. Armmand said she predicts it will get a chance to tackle more pressing issues in greater depth at its next meeting, currently scheduled for Oct. 29.