About 250 people attended the presentation of Chasing The Dragon, a documentary about the perils of opiate addiction, during an event hosted by the Saline Community Addiction Prevention Task Force and SalineAlive March 22 at Saline High School.
Following the presentation, many stayed for a forum addressing social-emotional and mental health and drug and alcohol issues.
Featured speaker Eric Hipple, the retired NFL quarterback, canceled at the last moment. Speakers included Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Lisa King, a high school student named who is recovering from heroin addiction and transgendered student Abby Haddas, who is part of the Saline High School Diversity Group called UPROAR.
Saline High School Principal David Raft and SHS Student Assistance Coordinator Mark Schuby and students Lisa Gross and Daniel Wiedmayer, members of Students Against Destructive Decisions, joined the speakers on a panel that fielded several questions from the audience. Students from SADD also performed a skit that illustrated the way drug addiction tears apart families.
After viewing the grim realities of opiate addiction during the documentary, a Saline student (who has requested to be anonymous) appeared on stage to share her struggles. She told the crowd that her problems began in middle school when her parents divorced. She turned to “cutting” and when that wasn’t enough, she turned to drugs. She began smoking marijuana at 14 and then turned to more potent marijuana oil. After becoming interested in psychedelic drugs like acid and magic mushrooms, she turned to pills. From medicine cabinets, she took Ritalin, Adderall, cough syrup and other drugs.
“I was failing in school and the seniors in school told me that Ritalin would help me get my studies on track,” she said, admitting she snorted Ritalin in the school bathroom.
Then she found opiates and started using Vicodin and Tramadol. She was prescribed Suboxone, an opiate that is supposed to help addicts get off pills. The drug is supposed to keep a user from getting high while helping them avoid the sick feeling of withdrawal. But she used the drug to get high.
“I lost all my friends. Nobody would talk to me. I lost the trust of my parents. Three years later I’m still working to rekindle the trust of my parents and those lost friendships,” she said.
It was getting caught that may have saved her life.
“I was 15. I got caught with opiates and I was sent to Washtenaw Detention Center. I was evaluated for drug court and thankfully I got into their program. I was in for seven months. I look at it as a gift from God.,” she said.
During the question and answer period, Schuby said that parents sometimes aren’t as vigilant about their children’s safety as they age. He thinks parents need to be aware of all the potential dangers facing teenagers.
“When our children were born we read magazines, we read books, we researched car seats. As a society, everything we do much research for our young. But as children get older, we forget about the safety factor,” Schuby said. “A lot of parents don’t know about the amount of marijuana (students have access to). They don’t know about (Rick Simpson Hemp Oil). They don’t always know the difference between depression and sadness. They are very different things.”
Schuby said he’s seen an increase in the frequency and levels of anxiety and depression at the high school.
“A lot of our kids are struggling,” Schuby said, encouraging parents to take advantage of events like the ones put on by the University of Michigan Depression Center. “Talk to your kids and get educated.”
Raft said one the things Saline High School is exploring is an alternate schedule that includes student-led activities to promote mental health.
“Our students face tremendous amounts of stress. They have a lot of things on their plate and things keep piling on, whether it’s looking at boyfriend-girlfriend issues, trying to get in the right college, pressures from home, athletics and clubs,” Raft said. “One of the things we’re going to have is student-led activities to promote mental fitness. Student leaders from throughout the building will help lead the exercise.”
Haddas, a transgender student, advised parents to give their children the slack to figure out who they are.
“One of the biggest pressures for me in high school was struggling to find myself. For the first two years of high school I identified myself as a male. For the last two years of high school I identified myself as a female. While not everyone struggles to that extent, everyone struggles with their identity to some extent, whether it’s fitting into a school group, fitting into friends or just trying to figure out a place where you are comfortable with who you are becoming,” Haddas said. “Give your kids slack to figure out who they want to be. Because if you rule with an iron fist I think they’ll swing more wildly in various directions.”
Officials from the addiction prevention task force were pleased by the turnout.
“We are grateful that so many students, parents and community members chose to join us for this important event,” said Janet Dillon, chairwoman of the taskforce. “Awareness, which sometimes comes through frank dialogue is a key element in promoting positive mental health and reducing the risk of addiction.