BY GREG BARLOW NEWS CORRESPONDENT
BLACKSTONE VALLEY TRIBUNE
Students get harsh look at effects of drug abuse
DOUGLAS — Since taking office in 2011, Worcester County Sheriff Lew Evangelidis has made it a priority to take a local approach towards solving the national drug addiction epidemic. With 90 percent of the people currently behind bars in the Worcester County Jail in West Boylston recorded as drug or alcohol addicts, Evangelidis has attended at least one middle or high school in the Worcester County on a weekly basis to allow young people to think twice before putting drugs into their bodies. “I promised when I ran for office that I would be actively involved in the community as much as possible to help solve this drug epidemic that I saw coming,” said Evangelidis. “It happens in every town in the Worcester County including your own. Young people have to think twice before going down that road because you don’t know where it will go.” On Wednesday, Feb. 24, Evangelidis paid a visit to the freshman and sophomores of Douglas High School to effectively educate them on substance abuse. Reaching out to the younger demographic, he hopes to bring frequent drug-related issues to students’ attention to battle future drug use among the young people across the region. Evangelidis builds his anti-drug program from the repetitive stories inmates tell him. Often in their stories, the inmates started drug habits at an early age. Evangelidis’ Face2Face program provides an energetic and modern approach of informing students on drug abuse, while it advises them on how to properly handle a decision when facing drug-related peer pressure. During his visits, Evangelidis notifies high school students on current drug trends that occur on a local and national level while incorporating a state of the art face configuring application into his presentation that demonstrates the physical harm drug abuse can cause over time. His program is the only one of its kind, as he’s the only sheriff across the country that offers this program. Better yet, the program is completely free for the schools. To the date, he’s reached out to more than 200,000 students at more than 100 schools. Throughout the program, he debunks common drug-related myths and spotlights the facts concerning drugs and alcohol, while engaging his young audience by revealing shocking (and sometimes graphic) before-andafter photographs of celebrities who’ve struggled with drug addiction. From Lindsay Lohan and Miley Cyrus to Boston Celtics’ 1986 first round NBA draft pick Len Bias, who overdosed on drugs during his first time ever using, Evangelidis conveys the riveting tales of famous people and how their lives and careers were destroyed from drugs. The presentation also emphasizes critical focus points within common drug-related myths and reveals true facts like Americans take 80 percent of the worlds’ opiates, when we only produce 5 percent. Even more alarming, as a country, we lost 48,000 people from drug-related deaths in 2015, compared to the 50,000 Americans who died in the Vietnam War. “It’s a drug war that our country continues to lose,” said Evangelidis. “There’s a tipping point of people dying in their 20’s, but the addiction starts here in high school. The absolute abundance of opioids in our community is out there with a myth about them not being dangerous or addictive.” Evangelidis believes the influx of drug addiction over the past decade is directly related to a new wave of opiates like oxycodone, which are overprescribed, making them highly attainable to get into the wrong hands. Additionally, 50 percent of drug addicts in the Blackstone Valley are under the age of 30. As they chase the high it’s common for addicts to transition from pills to heroin as a cheaper alternative. A father and former high school teacher, Evangelidis recognizes where drug addiction begins and hopes his program will stick with his audience as they face difficult decisions down the line. “I can say this for a fact,” said Evangelidis to the Douglas students. “There are people who were sitting in your chairs threefour years ago and are now in jail due to drugs.” Up next, Evangelidis will return to Douglas Middle School on March 16 to present to the seventh and eighth graders. Looking ahead, Evangelidis hopes to one day reach young people on a national scale as he thinks his program would be a beneficial countrywide program.