By Nance Ebert, Contributing Writer
Northborough – With humor, pop culture references, and actual footage of inmates, Worcester County Sheriff Lew Evangelidis presented his powerful Face2Face Program to eighth-grade students at Robert E. Melican Middle School.
The program’s intended purpose is to debunk the myths about substance abuse with actual facts and reinforce the notion that your choices really do matter, especially in middle and high school.
He has presented this program for the past five years to over 190, 000 students and is passionate that he is making a difference by giving these students hard facts in an entertaining and engaging way.
“As a school community, we are well aware of the opioid issue facing all communities and middle school is a time when kids have a lot of choices to make,” Principal Michelle Karb said. “We know a lot of experimenting takes place. I think that combined with how society views drugs and alcohol, this [program] seemed like a good fit.”
“I believe that because the inmates in my jail, where 90 percent of them are substance abusers, have told me that they wish they knew then what they know now as they would have made different choices,” Evangelidis said. “The fact of the matter is that these drugs are dangerous and addictive. Addiction is a disease. All drugs effect the brain especially in teens.”
One of the myths, he told the students, is that substance abusers can quit whenever they want but that is not the case. For those that end up being incarcerated, their life changes fast when they are in a jail cell. The sheriff elaborated a bit on what a day in prison looks like for an inmate, even showing an actual prison uniform.
He used examples of many recognizable faces in pop culture who are affected by drug and alcohol use, such as Charlie Sheen, Macaulay Culkin and Lindsay Lohan, to show the negative effects on their physical appearance. He spoke of Whitney Houston, Amy Winehouse and others who have died from drug overdoses. The common thread with these stars is that they all made bad choices.
One of the most compelling parts of the sheriff’s presentation was software that allowed students to see themselves as addicts and the physical deterioration drug abuse can cause. Pictures of several students were taken and transformed in front of the audience.
The students were asked why they thought people used drugs and alcohol; they gave many thoughtful responses including peer pressure, depression, to fit in, to feel good, to have fun, for escape, and more.
Evangelidis went on to explain why marijuana is called the “gateway drug” with the myth that many feel it is safe because it’s natural and from the earth.
“I heard from so many inmates that they started with marijuana, which they began to smoke on a daily basis. They relied on that daily high. Once you get high, it changes everything,” said Evangelidis.
The students listened attentively as Evangelidis explained the myths and facts about many addictive substances.
“Another common myth is that prescription medications are safe because they are prescribed by a medical doctor,” he noted. “When they are not used as intended they can be quite dangerous. It’s unfortunate that this generation is being referred to as ‘Generation Rx’ as many have tried prescription opioids.”
Evangelidis said he hoped the program reached at least a few students, encouraging them to make better choices.
(l to r) Eighth-grade students Liz DeVarney, Lucy Ganvin, Jack Rafferty and Quinn Potter with Worcester County Sheriff Lew Evangelidis. The students allowed the use of their photos to simulate how they would be transformed if they abused substances.