The numbers are frightening. In the first nine months of 2016, there have been 1,005 cases of unintentional opioid overdose death in Massachusetts, according to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. Law enforcement and emergency medical personnel are working together to find solutions to the current opioid epidemic, while educators throughout the state are proactively working to prevent future opioid use through drug awareness programs.
The staff at Blackstone Valley Tech are among those proactively working to educate students on the effects of drug and alcohol abuse. On November 22, Worcester County Sheriff Lew Evangelidis gave Blackstone Valley Tech students the tools and knowledge to make smart decisions if they are ever faced with drug and alcohol related incidents through the Face2Face Drug Awareness Program.
The students at BVT participated in the program to supplement their education on drug prevention and awareness as part of a full school assembly. Assistant Principal Matthew Urquhart worked with the District’s Substance Abuse Committee and the Sheriff’s office to bring the program to Valley Tech.
The Face2Face Drug Awareness Program uses cameras and software to show the ways drug use can alter a person’s appearances within a few years. The software shows the effects drug use can have on skin, teeth, and hair over time. The students are shown “before and after” photos of people to demonstrate that drug use impacts their appearance as well as their health. The photo evidence has a lasting impact on appearance-conscious adolescents.
“It’s important for our students to understand the impact of drug and alcohol abuse,” Urquhart said. “We’re constantly trying to teach our students to be respectful, productive citizens, and teach them how to respond to different situations they may face after graduation. We always try to empower our students to make strong, sound decisions when facing any and all challenges – specifically challenges that have dire consequences.”
Sheriff Evangelidis implored students to understand the many myths about drug use that circulate throughout the United States’ culture. Through stories from inmates, videos, photographs, and news stories the Sheriff cemented the negative impact drugs often have on abusers and their families.
One of the myths debunked by Sheriff Evangelidis was the idea that prescription medicine is safe because it is prescribed by a doctor. He went on to explain to students the way prescription medicines, such as OxyContin and Percocet, lead to other opioid use like heroin. Many people get hooked on prescription pain medicines not by abusing their own prescription, but rather by abusing the prescriptions of others.
“The truth is 72 percent of people who try opioids get them from a friend or relative,” Sheriff Evangelidis said.
The Sheriff showed students the slippery slope abusing prescription drugs can take because of money alone. Often, drug addicts cannot afford prescription drugs, but can afford heroin, which is significantly cheaper.
“One reason drugs are out there is because somebody is making a buck,” said Sheriff Evangelidis. “They don’t care about you or your family. They want you to get addicted to a drug so they can make more money.”
Sheriff Evangelidis asked students to learn from the mistakes of others and take advantage of the positive opportunities that surround them at Valley Tech and in their communities. By debunking the many myths about drug use, the Sheriff gave students the knowledge to make sound decisions regarding drug and alcohol use.
At the conclusion of the presentation, Dr. Michael Fitzpatrick, Superintendent-Director of BVT, addressed students.
“We care about you, but that doesn’t matter if you don’t care about yourself,” he said. You all have bright futures ahead of you, so make the right decisions to pursue them.”
The Blackstone Valley Tech administration has already begun working on bringing the program back to the school for future students. The proactive approach will allow school officials to educate students who can then help educate the public. The empowered BVT students will be able to give back to the communities that support their educational efforts by educating others in an effort to end drug and alcohol abuse in their communities and beyond.