Sheriff Lew Evangelidis gives his Face2Face drug prevention program to students at Westboro High School Thursday.
(T&G Staff/RICK CINCLAIR)
By Susan Spencer
TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFF
Thursday, May 29, 2014
WESTBORO — It’s the before-and-after pictures that always get them: Fresh-faced young people morph on the screen into ravaged shells of their former selves, with mottled, pocked skin and sunken faces, the effect of just a few years of heavy drug use.
It can be seen in faces of the famous: actors Lindsay Lohan and Macaulay Culkin, for example; in typical county jail inmates; and in a computer simulation of local high school students’ photos.
On Thursday, Westboro High School students were among the 100,000 students in Central Massachusetts over the past three years to see the physical effects and hear a debunking of the myths of opioids, alcohol, marijuana and other drugs as part of Sheriff Lewis G. Evangelides’ Face2Face program to prevent substance abuse.
Mr. Evangelides started the program after learning that roughly 90 percent of the 1,100 inmates at the Worcester County Jail got there because of drug and alcohol addiction.
He said drugs were a major problem at the time he was elected in 2010. But the problem has gotten worse, particularly with what he called the epidemic of prescription drug abuse and its common progression to heroin.
Mr. Evangelides told the students that they were members of “Generation Rx,” reflecting the rapid growth in abuse of prescription painkillers such as OxyContin, Percocet and Vicodin over the last decade. According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, in 2010 nearly as many youths tried prescription painkillers for the first time as tried marijuana.
Instead of the bring-your-own-bottle drinking parties of many middle-aged parents’ youth, high school and middle school students today go to “Skittle parties,” where they bring pills they’ve procured from medicine cabinets, Mr. Evangelides said. The practice is also known as “pharming” or “trail mixing.”
“Young people don’t even think they’re real drugs and they’ll send you to places you wouldn’t dream you’d go,” Mr. Evangelides said, as he showed video footage of the 24/7 monitoring and lack of amenities such as toilet seats that jail inmates live with.
“None of you are thinking that if you pop a Perc or an Oxy or Vicodin, you’d end up addicted,” he continued. “No one is going to offer you that Oxy and tell you, after a while you’re going to need three, six, 10 (pills), and 80 milligrams of Oxy costs $80 … and a bag of heroin is cheaper than a six-pack. You go right from that pill to that needle.”
He also exploded myths about popular club drugs such as “Molly,” a supposedly pure form of Ecstasy. Citing two deaths in one week last year of New Hampshire students who overdosed on the drug, Mr. Evangelides said, “There is no such thing as a safe dose of Molly.”
Even marijuana, which many baby boomer parents consider relatively safe, causes brain, behavioral and physical damage similar to that caused by alcohol and other drugs.
Police Chief Alan Gordon said before the program: “We have a heroin problem. We have opiates. We just did a drug search here last week and had two hits of marijuana. We’ve had overdoses.
“They think marijuana is fine, but it’s definitely a gateway. The high isn’t high enough, so they move to pills. Then the money becomes a problem, they turn to heroin.”
Former Westboro High School tennis coach Nancy Quimby, who helped bring the Face2Face program to the school, said, “Even in Westboro, it’s a problem.”
Erin McCafferty, a junior, said as she walked out of the auditorium afterward: “It was really informative. The prescription pain ones — I’ve had family members overdose and die from it.”
“Seeing the pictures really makes you see how bad it is,” said junior Margaret Baldwin.
Sophomore Hailey Erb said she was struck by the video of an 18-year-old boy who became a paraplegic after he overdosed and his friends didn’t call 911 until several hours later, resulting in permanent brain damage.
Hailey described the drug scene in Westboro: “It’s mostly weed here, but I’m sure there’s lots of other drug abuse. I don’t think they think about it too much. People don’t see the negative impacts it (marijuana) has.”
Principal Brian M. Callaghan said that a community coalition was forming to bring together businesses, medical professionals, schools, town leaders and others to focus on substance abuse and promote healthy living.
Mr. Callaghan said there’s been an uptick in prescription painkiller and marijuana use, while alcohol use among students is relatively low.
But he’s hopeful that with more education, awareness and community involvement, attitudes, including the “amused tolerance” many hold toward marijuana use, will turn around.
“When the parents believe in the message, you see the drug use go down,” he said.