Summit lesson: Drugs can kill

Standing-room crowd hears experts detail dangers of abuse

May 30, 1999|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

Sobering lessons about drug and substance abuse were presented at the Carroll County Drug Summit '99, where a poignant and graphic video, "Heroin Kills," sent viewers home recommitted to prevention efforts.

A standing-room-only crowd of more than 250 children and adults attended Thursday's forum and saw the first public showing of the video inspired by the overdose deaths of several Carroll teen-agers. Among the lessons conveyed:

The county commissioners consider the war on drugs a top priority.

Col. David B. Mitchell, superintendent of the Maryland State Police, said $1 million would remain in the governor's budget for treatment programs.

"We can't arrest away the statewide drug problem," he said.

Carroll County State's Attorney Jerry F. Barnes said his office uses three prosecutors full time to seek convictions in drug cases.

Sgt. Mike College of the Carroll County Drug Task Force said addicts usually prey on their families before inflicting their damaging behavior on the community. Addicts will lie, cheat and steal from their loved ones until nothing is left to take, and then they begin preying on neighbors and the community at large, he said.

"Parents have told me they have deadbolt locks on their bedroom doors, because a family member is stealing everything in sight to feed an addiction," College said.

By the numbers

David Puetsche, coordinator for the state Drug and Alcohol Administration, offered telling statistics. According to fiscal 1998 figures:

About 25 percent of 288 Carroll County adolescents who were admitted to certified alcohol- and drug-abuse programs used heroin.

Of those 288, 184 were admitted for the first time, and only 84 had never been arrested. Of the heroin users, the number of those who snorted was double the number who used intravenous needles.

For parents who believe that their children will not become addicted to heroin, Puetsche had these figures:

Carroll County's percentage of heroin users -- 16.7 percent -- topped Baltimore City's 16.5 percent and trailed only Baltimore County's 30.2 percent.

Despite more than a year of public awareness efforts devoted to heroin problems in Carroll County, 3 percent of high school sophomores said they had used heroin during the past 30 days.

That telling percentage was the third-worst in the state, behind Kent County's 4.1 percent and Wicomico's 3.1 percent.

Female adolescents are as likely to use heroin as males are, and the average age of first-time users is nearly equal -- 15.0 years for boys and 14.6 years for girls.

One piece of good news from Drug Summit '99 was the size of the crowd. The large attendance indicated the community's interest in combating substance abuse.

Another positive aspect was the "Heroin Kills" video, produced by Residents Attacking Drugs, a Westminster-based citizens group dedicated to public awareness and prevention of drug abuse.

`Cautionary story'

The 35-minute video is a "cautionary story, based on real-life tragedy," according to RAD. Aimed at young teens, the video offers a simple, harrowing moral: "Drugs equals death. So don't try, and don't die.

It is the story of a boy, an athletic skateboarder, who yields to peer pressure and dies an awful death from drug abuse.

The producers say viewers will learn the results of abuse: "Failure at school, deception, lying, stealing, deterioration of friendships, isolation, physical pain and oblivion in a coffin, bathed in the tears of family and friends."

Blending quick-cut camera techniques and rock music, the video provides many poignant scenes. There is the chaotic opening, in which the father of anti-hero Jonathan Miller discovers his son dead in bed, and the part in which Michael O'Hara, a real-life father who found his son, Westminster High sophomore Liam O'Hara, dead in bed from an overdose last year, tells the viewers, "Don't try, and don't die."

Nancy Cooney, a Westminster parent, called the video "powerful, from beginning to end."

She brought her son, Tim Wheatley, and his friend, Brandon Stickle. Both 13, they had seen the video two weeks ago at a private showing and were glad they had come back.

"I listened more this time and got more out of it," Tim said.

Scott Tenney, 14, who will be a freshman at Westminster High School in the fall, called the video "dramatic" and "truthful."

"It grabbed my attention with the death scene at the beginning," Scott said. He noted that the video depicted the progression of the addiction of main character Jonathan Miller.

"It's just like my dad has told me: Drug dealers get you hooked [for free], and once you are hooked, they want more and more money," said Scott.

He said he was unsure how his peers would react to the video, but he expected they would want to discuss it with their families, "maybe even in the car ride home."

Pub Date: 5/30/99

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