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The Gardner News, By: Kerry O’Brien
ASHBURNHAM — Worcester County Sheriff Lewis Evangelidis on Monday showed students at Oakmont Regional High School the effects of drugs while warning how easy it is to get caught up in addiction.

“You know what 90 percent of the inmates in the Worcester County Jail have in common? They’re in for their addiction to drugs or alcohol, and none of them thought it would happen to them,” Mr. Evangelidis said during his visit to the school. “No one thinks it’s going to happen to them.”

With the presentation to Oakmont’s entire student body, approximately 25,000 students have seen the sheriff’s program on drug abuse.

The program includes a component using Face2Face technology, which displays before and after shots of people who became addicts and also morphs photos of people from the school community to show the changes in appearance drugs can create.

Mr. Evangelidis’ office started the tour last spring, with the goal of showing the presentation to every district in the state. With the program constantly evolving, the sheriff said they are now going back to some schools and reaching different audiences.

Oakmont students said they found the presentation shocking and informative.

“It was informational,” said freshman Christina Rodriguez. “I didn’t even know what bath salts actually were until today. I just heard about it on Facebook. Now I know if someone I know is doing drugs, I need to try to get them out of it.”

Mr. Evangelidis discussed the myths and facts surrounding drug abuse, different types of harmful substances and their effects, and showed videos about celebrities and ordinary individuals whose lives were taken away when they experimented with or became addicted to drugs.

“The whole celebrity thing is a good way to reach teens,” said junior Shaina Womdle. “(One thing that surprised me was) the fact that (former college basketball star and Boston Celtics draft pick) Len Bias did cocaine once and died from it.”

“It cleared up a lot of misconceptions for teenagers thinking everything is OK,” said junior Chase Hamel.

Several myths Mr. Evangelidis debunked included the idea that marijuana is not dangerous — noting that in his experience, it is often a gateway drug — as well as the false perception that prescription pills are safe and that drugs do not cause continuing damage to the brain.

According to the sheriff’s presentation, recent statistics show that eight teens die every day due to drunk driving, three million teens in the country are alcoholics and more teens have tried prescription pills than the national average of adults who have smoked marijuana.

Oakmont Principal David Uminski said the school is always trying to reach out to students to prevent or help students escape drug abuse.

“It’s our responsibility to educate all students about health and safety,” he said. “We do have a drug problems here because our student population mirrors what is happening in society. We also want to educate the students with different sources. We are very appreciative of Sheriff Evangelidis coming to Oakmont. He had a friendly, not preachy approach, and was able to really connect with the students.

“One student told me they couldn’t even look at the screen at one point,” the principal added. “I think this presentation will stick with a lot of them. They’ll remember those images and lessons.”