Teens shown the high costs of drugs, drink

November 24, 1994|By Elaine Tassy | Elaine Tassy,Sun Staff Writer

"I hate hospitals already," said Chris Novello, 14, of Parkville, standing in the halls of the Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

That was the idea, as Chris and 12 other Baltimore County juvenile offenders got a firsthand look yesterday at how painful medical treatment can be for people brought in with life-threatening injuries after drug- or alcohol-related accidents.

Eleven boys and two girls, ranging in age from 14 to 18, toured the hospital as part of a mandatory five-week program designed by the Baltimore County Office of Substance Abuse to help scare them sober as the holiday season arrives.

Since September, 90 students have completed the program. All have been expelled from school or charged as juveniles with their first substance-abuse offense.

Some were caught dealing, using or carrying illegal drugs. Others were caught driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, said Michael M. Gimbel, who directs the Adolescent Substance Abuse Intervention Program in Towson. He said only 9 percent of the students who have gone through the program in the past have been rearrested in the following two years.

The teen-agers -- clad in oversized jeans, baseball caps, and T-shirts -- got their introduction to Shock Trauma from Debbie Yohn, the nurse who coordinates the trauma prevention program.

She said about half of shock trauma patients arrive with drugs or alcohol in their systems. More than half are male; most are between 15 and 35, and many come in with gunshot wounds from soured drug deals or injured in near-fatal car accidents.

About half of the young people said they had ridden in a car with a drunk driver, and a quarter admitted having driven under the influence of alcohol.

Before the tour, the teen-agers were jostling each other and joking. But that ended when the demonstration began.

Technicians asked for a volunteer, and 14-year-old Matt Carter of Perry Hall agreed to pose as a victim rushed to Shock Trauma via ambulance or helicopter.

When he lay down on a hospital bed, a technician in blue hospital scrubs clamped his neck still with a rubber brace. Typically, seven people would treat him, she said.

If he were a real patient, she said, they would cut off his clothes, give him a catheter, and possibly cut a hole between his ribs to slide a breathing tube into his lungs.

When the technician unwrapped a thick, long needle, the students gasped.

"These are not to be mean -- they are life-saving measures," she said, adding that patients have no control over the often painful procedures.

Stunned and silent, students walked from that area to real patients' rooms.

The first -- a 20-year-old survivor of a drug-related accident -- lay unconscious on his stomach with metal prongs screwed into his head. He was strapped to a bed which is turned over every two hours so he will not get ulcers. If he survives, he will be paralyzed.

"I could not imagine never walking again," said Bryant Smith, 18, of Towson as he walked out of the room, shaking his head.

The second patient was also 20. Sitting in a chair with one eye swollen shut, he was in a body cast and had metal plates under the skin on his face.

After drinking four beers, he told them, he was involved in an accident that crushed his vehicle like a tuna can.

"I'd never do it again," he said, his speech slurred and slow. "Even if you're not my friend, I wouldn't let them drink and drive."

Many students, already subdued by the tour, were silenced by his words.

Mr. Smith, who was caught driving drunk in April, got the point. "I was kind of lucky, I guess," he said.

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