Worcester County Sheriff Lew Evangelidis stands in front of a list of celebrities
that have died as a result of drug use during a presentation of his Face-to-Face
program at Burncoat High School Tuesday. (Sam Bonacci, MassLive.com)
By: Sam Bonacci, MassLive
April 9, 2014
Worcester County Sheriff Lew Evangelidis rattled off the story of nearly every inmate at the Worcester County House of Correction in 10.6 seconds for Burncoat High School’s ninth grade students on Tuesday.
“I was in middle or high school and started taking drugs. I got addicted and stole from my family to support my addiction; got kicked out. Ended up staying with a friend but stole from him to feed my addiction; so he threw me out. So then I started stealing from neighbors and strangers, got arrested and ended up going to prison. That’s the story,” said Evangelidis. “That’s the story of 90 percent of the people in the prison up there … is your life story one you want told?”
Evangelidis is reaching out through his Face-to-Face program to tell students about the perils of drug and alcohol abuse. The program started after talking to prisoners about their path to prison. The majority said they could trace their problems back to drugs in middle and high school. It was then that Evangelidis decided to bring this message to students in the hopes that it would change the path for at least a few students every time he makes the presentation.
“They wish they could bring this program to you, but they can’t because they are in prison,” Evangelidis told the gathered students. “If people didn’t drink and do drugs, the prisons would probably be empty … you want to know how to get to prison? Drugs and alcohol.”
The multi-media presentation has been given throughout Worcester county for the last three years. It is geared towards seventh grade students through high school seniors, although a modified form was given in Auburn to fifth graders at the request of school officials. He has spoken to over 80,000 students, he said. Every time, he has students coming up to him afterwards talking about how drugs have personally touched their lives, said Evangelidis.
The presentation is constantly changing to address drug trends. It makes uses of examples of celebrities affected by or having died from drugs while debunking the myths of various drugs. One of the biggest myths right now revolves around a perceived safety of prescription pills, said Evangelidis.
“So many young people don’t think these are real drugs because they are prescription drugs,” said Evangelidis. “These are some of the hardest, most addictive drugs out there and yet people don’t think they are real.”
This generation of students are at the front lines of a widespread change in drug use in America because of the time in which they are growing up, he explained. Prescription pills, which have not been as prevalent in previous generations, are just as dangerous as any drug that can be put into someone’s arm, he said, and it can take mere months for people hooked on them to turn to heroin.
“No one is going to tell you ‘Try this Oxy(codone) or try this Vic(odin), but six months later you are going to be so addicted that you are going to go out and buy heroin,’” said Evangelidis, explaining that a bag of heroin costs less than a pack of cigarettes and is where people turn to keep an expensive habit going. “Once you’ve started down that road of heroin, you’ve pretty much reached the end of the line and it doesn’t take long to get there.”
For some prisoners, it is a path where even prison is not the worst outcome possible, he said.
“They say, ‘sometimes I think I am the lucky one, because some of my friends died. At least I am still alive,'” said Evangelidis, of conversations he has had with prisoners. “It’s a pretty rough life when you feel fortunate to be sitting in a jail cell.”
The program’s goal is to make students aware that they are taking the first steps down the path to addiction which can lead to prison or death, said Evangelidis. It is one part what needs to be a multi-faceted approach to the problem of drug abuse, he said.
“We need to look closely at addiction programming out there to offer assistance to people who are addicted. We need to look at how prescriptions are allocated by physicians and how people are getting these huge amounts prescribed,” said Evangelidis. “We need to tackle this problem head on and there are so many layers to it.”