Press-Republican

April 28, 2013

Drug/alcohol workshop opens eyes

By FELICIA KRIEG
Press-Republican

---- — PLATTSBURGH — Jayce Waltz told a roomful of middle-school students and their parents about her life as a drug addict.

“It’s all who you hang out with,” she said, speaking of her experiences with marijuana and alcohol that led to cocaine, pills and psychedelic mushrooms.

“Wherever you go, new stuff is presented.”

Waltz will be a junior at SUNY Plattsburgh in the fall.

She has been living drug-free since she completed a 20-month rehab program while she was in high school.

Parents often don’t suspect their own children of leading their peers astray, Waltz said.

“Looking back, I was a bad influence.”

‘START TALKING’

Waltz sat on the student panel at the annual “Start Talking Before They Start Drinking” workshop at Stafford Middle School.

Also taking part were Plattsburgh High School students Katie Stetz, Marle Curle, Kelly Cantwell and Matt Evans.

Evans said high-school kids will often take prescription pills without knowing what kind of drugs they are ingesting.

Stetz and Curle agreed that doctors often prescribe more drugs than patients need, which can be a danger, they said.

“It’s just handed to them (patients),” Curle said.

‘NEVER TOO EARLY’

It’s never too early for parents to start talking to their kids about drugs and alcohol, said Drug Free Communities Support Program Project Coordinator Jessica Mathews.

Locally, Stop Underage Drinking funds the Above the Influence group at Plattsburgh High School, the after-prom party, health fairs and alternative events like a recent Friday night bowling party, she said.

The federally-funded program is nearing the end of its second five-year funding period, Matthews said.

Two terms of $125,000 each in funding are all that is available.

To continue the work after the money runs out, Matthews is working on making individual activities and programs sustainable.

“Things are happening at a very low cost,” she said.

BREAKOUT GROUPS

After an introduction at “Start Talking Before They Start Drinking,” Matthews engaged the students in activities while Bonnie Black, director of employee assistance services at Behavioral Health Services North, gave a drug-and-alcohol presentation to the parents.

In one game, youths worked in groups to find the answers to drug- and alcohol-related questions.

Students correctly identified 2:1 as the ratio of sober drivers to drunk drivers on the road at midnight.

Then the students each had a chance to don intoxication goggles and try to walk in a straight line.

After the experience, they said they felt dizzy, unbalanced and “weird.”

“Everything was off,” one middle-schooler said.

The brain doesn’t stop developing until age 25, Matthews told the students.

“You’re impeding your own success” if you use alcohol, she said.

DANGEROUS DRUGS

Down the hall in a classroom, Black detailed the effects of drugs that have gained popularity with young people.

Young people may not know how a drug will affect them and the affiliation of some drugs can be misleading, she said.

For example, K-2, sometimes known as synthetic marijuana, has entirely different effects on the body than marijuana.

Often these days, she said, young people take medications from their parents’ medicine cabinets for recreational use.

But “it may not be your kids — it may be their friends,” Black said.

A trend called “farming” where a mishmash of drugs are placed in a bowl at a party and randomly consumed has become popular, Black said.

Remember, she told the adults, kids think they are immortal.

“They have no concept that a handful of drugs could kill them.”

Parent Margarita Garcia-Notario said she hadn’t even heard about many of the drugs Black spoke about.

She said the presentation helped her feel more confident about talking to her children, ages 12 and 15, about alcohol and drugs.

“I learned a lot about teen behavior,” she said.

POLICE KNOW

Student risk legal repercussions if they choose to abuse substances.

Police know about the popular local hangouts where alcohol and drugs get passed around, Curle said. 

“The police know where it is.”

Stetz said students shouldn’t feel pressured to drink even if their friends are.

“You don’t always have to go out and get completely wasted.”

Attending parties while abstaining from drinking can be a good option for students, said health teacher Kim Quinn, the City School District’s health-education coordinator.

Quinn recently switched from teaching seniors at Plattsburgh High School to instructing eighth-graders at the Middle School.

That earlier experience enables her to effectively prepare the younger students for situations they may encounter in high school, she said.

“Parents are really grateful for the opportunity to come to this small, close-knit event and just be able to ... get their questions answered,” Matthews said. 

“Everybody always walks away with something.”

Email Felicia Krieg:fkrieg@pressrepublican.com