Reconsidering ‘quality of life’
The term “quality of life” is often used but seldom defined. Everyone wants it, but it means something different to each of us. For some of us, it is living simply in a rural community untainted by commercial development. For my son, it is living in the heart of Los Angeles surrounded by basketball courts and night life. For others, it is living near good schools and employment opportunities.
It’s unavoidable that our personal views on quality of life take shape in the context of our own wants, means, and lifestyle. That said, we need to expand our vision.
The malignancy of substance abuse is spreading all around us. Eventually, and in increasingly serious ways, it will impact and endanger any “quality of life” worth protecting. The signs are all around us: Why do they spark so little community response and action?
On Sept. 22, 2004, three public events occurred simultaneously in Nevada County: A debate among the District 3 supervisor candidates; a citizen’s group debate on the merits of proposed developments in Grass Valley; and a public forum offered by the Nevada County Substance Abuse Advisory Board (NCSAAB) with a panel of distinguished community leaders.
All of these events addressed issues profoundly impacting the “quality of life” in this county, but you wouldn’t know it from the turnout at each.
The first two events were well-attended by enthusiastic listeners and participants, and received significant newspaper coverage. The NCSAAB forum, on the other hand, was attended by only a handful of citizens, most of them already tackling substance abuse problems in their own families, and received no press. Are they not looking for answers to real “quality of life” issues?
Substance abuse problems tear families apart and often deplete a family’s entire life savings. They destroy employment, friendships, and futures; they ruin, or even worse, take lives of loved ones. These problems require a disproportionate share of our police dollars and attention, fill our jails and juvenile hall, pose a threat to surrounding citizens, and leave a wake of wasted lives.
If you think that traffic lights or housing developments are the major threats to our quality of life, you are sorely mistaken. You might be thinking that such problems don’t really affect you – your kids are grown, or your family hasn’t had these problems, etc. – but we all are affected, whether we recognize it or not.
Substance abuse is in our neighborhood streets and in our schools, among our children’s friends and our friends’ children, and even among our friends. It fills our newspapers and courtrooms every day. It drives up county budgets and eats valuable tax dollars, and that affects us all directly, every day.
I urge all persons concerned with creating or protecting any quality of life to include substance abuse problems in their focus. Certainly this issue should be as high on the agenda as environmental concerns and traffic studies. Those of us whose lives and families have already suffered the losses and anguish of substance abuse have been force-fed this realization. Don’t wait too long to get involved in this real quality of life issue.
Some of you are probably thinking “this doesn’t impact me” while others are asking “what can I possibly do?”
The first thing you can do is become more aware of the problem. Ask yourself how you might be affected. Ask your neighbors, friends and relatives if and how they are affected. You’ll be surprised how many families have already been penetrated by substance abuse. Once you acknowledge how you are actually affected by the problem, you have already taken the first step. Don’t stop there!
I have asked to be appointed to the NCSAAB in hopes of promoting a specific program aimed at long-term prevention. I hope to have the opportunity to present this program to the council and to the citizens of Nevada County in the next year. I may be calling some of you for your support in this hugely important issue.
Regardless how you view it, substance abuse isn’t someone else’s problem anymore Ð this is an issue that impacts us all, and that we all of us must begin to deal with immediately.
Philip N. Lester lives in Penn Valley.
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