Sheriff hammers home drugs and alcohol message

The Holden Landmark
By Patricia Roy

As 500 members of the freshman class filed into the auditorium at Wachusett Regional High School, a stark film played out on screen. It showed a young man sitting on the edge of rigid bed in an eight-by-tan foot cell, tossing an orange from hand to hand.

As an inmate in the West Boylston House of Correction, that was how the young man spend much of his day, Worcester County Sheriff Lew Evangelidis told the students.

“About 85 to 90 percent of the inmates are in jail because of drugs and alcohol,” Evangelidis said. “They will tell you, I am in jail because I made bad choices in middle school and high school.”

The film was the opening salvo in the sheriff’s Face2Face Program, an anti-drug and alcohol abuse multimedia message that he began taking to high schools and middle schools in the region last year.

The tedium of an inmate’s day was outlined, all played out in a scratchy horizontally striped prison uniform and under the watchful eye of a camera, 24/7, 365 days a year, Evangelidis said.

The before and after effects of drugs and alcohol were dramatized using celebrities- Lindsay Lohan, and Charlie Sheen- as real life examples whose looks and careers took a nosedive as they piled up arrest after arrest.

The potential for a fatal overdose or death from the damage drugs cause is always there, Evangelidis said. A montage of celebrities who have died from drug or alcohol abuse came on screen, students shouting out the names as they recognized the stars – Amy Winehouse, Whitney Houston and Heath Ledger.

“Sometimes inmates will tell me they’re the lucky ones because they lived and their friends didn’t,” he said.

The sheriff also busted some popular myths regarding drugs; that marijuana isn’t dangerous, that trying something only once won’t hurt, that prescription drugs are safe.

On screen, an inmate acknowledged that marijuana is a gateway drugs.

“If you smoke weed on a daily basis, you develop a tolerance. People who have weed will have other drugs,” one inmate said, adding that once you get high, it changes everything.

Different generations have earned different nicknames, Evangelidis said. Past decades have see the Me Generation, Gen X, and Gen Y.

“Today’s high school kids are labeled Generation Rx,” he said, a reference to the prevalence of potent prescription drugs that are available.

Graphic pictures of the results of drugs abuse drew gasps from the students. There were broken and rotted teeth, the “meth mouth” of a methamphetamine abuser, and the collapsed noses and a hole in the mouth of cocaine users.

The social consequences are just as bad, he warned. There is alienation from family and friends.

“The inmates tell the same story. ‘First I was stealing from my family and friends and they got sick of me. Then I stole from people I don’t know and I got caught and now I’m in prison,’” he said.

Half a dozen students volunteered to have their photos digitally altered to simulate the effects of drug and alcohol abuse. Once again, the reactions were starling as 15-year-old faces become creased and mottled.

“Talk to your family and get support if you or someone you know is having a problem with drugs or alcohol,” Evangelidis said. “And if you think someone needs emergency medical attention, don’t wait to call 911.”

The sheriff was a member of the WRHS class of 1979 and memories of that time gave a special urgency to his presentation.

“On the night of our graduation, two of my classmates were killed in a drinking and drive accident. This is as personal as it gets for me,” he said.