2012-02-24 / Front Page

Community leaders discuss heroin issue

Task force recommended to put plan into action
By Carissa Marsh

In the wake of last week’s massive “Heroin Sucks” rally at city hall, community leaders are ready to join the ranks of residents crusading against the upward trending— and oftentimes deadly—drug abuse problem in Simi Valley.

Mayor Bob Huber, school board President Janice DiFatta and Recreation and Park District board chair Kate O’Brien met Feb. 15 and discussed the problem of heroin use, particularly by youth, within the community.

“We recognize that heroin use has significantly increased in Simi Valley recently and unfortunately has become a drug of choice for too many,” the trio said in a joint statement. “We have all read of recent deaths from heroin use by several of our residents, and we are committed to joining with our community in doing all that we can in achieving the goal of ‘Not One More.’”

The three officials were already scheduled to meet to discuss common community issues and set an agenda for a joint meeting of all members of their respective elected bodies on March 8.

But with the public outcry over the heroin epidemic voiced just two days before at the Feb. 13 City Council meeting, the issue of drug abuse became of prime importance to the representatives.

“We are all very, very committed to solving this because we realize this is a community issue,” Huber said in an interview with the Acorn. “It’s an issue that we’ve got to get a handle on, and it’s going to take all of us.”

Together they are calling for their three agencies—the City Council, the Simi Valley Unified School District board and the Rancho Simi Recreation and Park District board—to collaborate on the development of a “focused, aggressive community action plan” to help prevent the use of heroin in Simi Valley.

They are recommending the formation of a task force that will quickly and efficiently develop the plan as well as make suggestions on how to carry it out.

DiFatta, who has sat on the school board for 16 years, said she was previously unaware that heroin was such a problem in Simi Valley and that the concerns raised by residents at the City Council meeting had not yet been brought to the attention of the school board, nor had they surfaced at school sites.

Still, while she had believed the city and the police department had a “good handle” on the drug problem, DiFatta said it is clear it is an issue that now needs to be further addressed.

“The fortunate thing, at least in Simi Valley, because of our efforts as a tri-agency group . . . is we’re able to work together on identifying solutions or steps that we can take that are going to be beneficial not only to the community when our young people are out on our streets but also in our schools and our parks,” DiFatta said.

“Working jointly, I think, is probably the best thing we can do to tackle this problem in our community.”

O’Brien, who has been on the park board since 2000, agreed, saying it is important that the park district be involved in this effort because it is part of the community, too.

“If it affects the people, the citizens of Simi Valley, it is something we care about, and it is obviously something that does affect the citizens . . . (and) something people want help with,” she said, citing the unusually large crowd at last week’s City Council meeting. “On a personal level, I hate the idea of children getting addicted to heroin.”

The trio said they are “confident” that their colleagues will join in the endeavor and that together they will act quickly to develop the community action plan.

Huber, DiFatta and O’Brien will each discuss with their respective boards the appointment of a second elected official from each agency to serve with them. In addition, Michael McCaffrey, the current chair of the Simi Valley Chamber of Commerce, will serve on the task force.

Huber said he and his fellow community leaders want to keep the task force small so that it can move quickly and efficiently in carrying out ideas.

However, the task force will rely heavily on input from residents, and he envisions that there will be smaller subcommittees formed to tackle specific issues.

O’Brien said she looks forward to the first meeting and hearing from residents about new, innovative ways to combat the drug problem, since current regulations and approaches are not doing enough to curb abuse.

“I think we’re probably going to have to conduct some brainstorming sessions . . . but the time has come to take action and think outside the box,” O’Brien said. “We want to have people’s input, their feelings and their ideas.”

During the March 8 joint meeting, scheduled for 6 p.m. at Sinaloa Middle School, the boards will discuss the formation and direction of the task force and the overall problem of heroin use in Simi Valley, as well as other issues of concern to all three agencies.

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