More kids in Oak Park and River Forest abuse drugs and alcohol than do kids in other similar communities. And the gap is widening.

What are we going to do about it?

Nothing must be an acceptable answer because it’s the course we’ve chosen up till now. Except when a kid ODs and we go through a short-lived period of collective tut-tutting and wishing things were different.

Last Wednesday, 400 people, mainly parents of teens, a few teens themselves, and every expert the villages could muster, turned out at Oak Park and River Forest High School for a genuine shock to the system. We’ve got a serious addiction problem right here in utopia. It starts in middle school. The principal at the high school said addiction is reaching “a critical mass” at OPRF. The abuse counselor said our college kids come home and report it’s way easier to get drugs or alcohol here than on their campuses.

Fifty percent of our kids are using drugs and/or alcohol. “That’s one of every two kids,” said Keenan Williams, an Oak Park police commander. “But the problem is that it is always someone else’s kid.”

We are in collective denial. We love our kids. We trust our kids. We don’t want to make them mad at us. Maybe we drink too much ourselves. And, clearly, getting on the phone to introduce yourself to the parents of your kid’s friends isn’t as appealing as when you were setting up play dates in the second grade.

No one ever said it was easy being the parent of a teen. On the other hand, there has never been an official vote that it was OK to just give up either. It’s time for the adults to be the adults. Maybe it started last week in the high school auditorium. We’ll find out in the weeks ahead as follow-up meetings take place.

Here are the two fronts we’ll be watching:

We need a cultural change. Can parents unite and, over time, change the expectations of what goes in these villages? How about an end to drinking parties at the family cottage in Wisconsin? What about making a point of knowing the adults at the house where your child is spending the night? There are many small changes that need to come, in support of a big idea – teens and preteens need direction and limits.

We need structural changes. High school officials were serious last week in saying that all options are on the table to cut substance abuse at the school. Serious debates ought to be coming on closing the campus beyond freshman year, on the use of drug-sniffing dogs in the school. These are bold steps. Can we mesh our liberal tendencies with a stronger desire to protect our youth?

Step up in your home, in your hometown. There is a movement trying to get traction. Join in.

Earlean Collins, hack

Earlean Collins continues to be an embarrassment as our Cook County commissioner. How can any rational person vote to support Todd Stroger’s veto of a measure to contain his own profligate hiring and spending during his final months as county board president?

Yet Collins was one of six commissioners to vote to sustain the veto and allow Stroger unfettered crony privileges between now and the general election. This woman makes noises about being progressive and transparent. But she votes like a hack.

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