By Sandy Quadros Bowles
Worcester County Sherriff Lewis Evangelidis returned to the middle school he attended to deliver a sobering message to the seventh and eighth graders.
Statistically, not all of them will survive to graduate from high school.
Eight teens die every day in an accident involving drunken driving, he told them. One in four deaths in the U.S. involves substance abuse, specifically alcohol, tobacco and illicit drugs.
“Once you get high, it changes everything,’’ he said to the assembly June 12 at Mountview Middle School. “You hang out with different people, do different drugs, start doing dumb things. You can go to prison because of choices you made.’’
He said that 90 percent of the 1,100 inmates at the Worcester County House of Correction in West Boylston, which Evangelidis supervises, landed there because of issues with drugs or alcohol.
Worcester County Sheriff Lewis Evangelidis shows Mountview Middle School students the durable but less than comfortable uniforms the inmates wear at the Worcester County House of Correction. Joyce Roberts photo
Many inmates tell him they wish someone had warned them while they were in middle school about the results of drugs and alcohol. They often offer to share their stories with young people in hopes they don’t make the same mistake.
Inmates have told him “I wish I could go out and tell them, but I can’t, because I’m in jail,’’ he said.
And that is not an easy experience, Evangelidis said. Inmates have no privacy, even when they are using the toilet. The toilets have no seats, because they could be used as weapons. Towels are also forbidden, he said, because inmates could use them to choke themselves or others. The uniforms are selected for durability rather than comfort, which students learned by touching the fabric of a uniform he brought to the assembly.
The image of Mountview Middle School science teacher Wayne Boisselle is digitally altered to demonstrate the toll that drug use can take on a person’s appearance. Joyce Roberts photo
Just one experience with drugs can start a downhill cycle, he said. And today’s young people face even more potential hazards, he said. They have been called “Generation Rx,’’ he said.
Prescription drugs have become a major problem, he said. Nearly as many people used prescription drugs as they did marijuana in 2010, according to the DEA. “And the problem is worse now,’’ four years later, he said.
Young people today have been known to host “Skittles parties,’’ when young people empty their parents’ medicine cabinets, place the contents in a bowl and encourage guests to take a random handful.
These pills can be harmful, even fatal, he said. He quoted an addict who described Oxycontin as “worse than crack … the worst drug out there.’’
He also expressed concerns about “Molly,’’ a drug often associated with clubs and partying. In an incident that happened after Evangelidis’ talk, more than 30 people were hospitalized with symptoms linked to the use of Molly after a Boston concert by the electronic dance artist Avicci.
The drug can also cause a rapid heartbeat, high blood pressure, blood vessel constriction and sweating, and can prevent the body from regulating temperature. Some of the chemicals have been reported to cause intense, prolonged panic attacks, psychosis and seizures.
Singer Miley Cyrus, whose music is popular with teens and young adults, references the drug in her song “We Can’t Stop,” which includes a line about “dancing with molly.”
Glamorizing such drugs can lull young people into a false sense of security, he said.
If talking about the problem did not work, Evangelidis also showed the effects that drugs can take on people’s looks. He showed before-and-after pictures of addicts, depicting when they started their addictions and then about two years later, when their often scarred, pockmarked faces seemed to age by decades.
The students even saw a familiar face among the examples: Science teacher Wayne Boisselle volunteered to have his face digitally altered to show the ravages of substance abuse.
Evangelidis hopes through this program that young people can learn early about the dangers and will make the right decisions going forward.
“Your choices matter,’’ he said.