Monday, March 22, 2010

In Pennsylvania, Local School Board Approves Pilot Substance Abuse Program

Bucks Local News

In an 8-0 vote, the Pennsbury School Board voted to implement a peer-to-peer pilot substance abuse program in the Twilight Alternative Education program for at-risk teenagers.

The program will bring people who have recovered from addiction into the classroom to talk with students. The board could later decide to implement the program in the mainstream student population.

About 300 parents and educators applauded after each speaker gave personal testimony about the sometimes fatal effects of alcohol and drug abuse. The comments came at the regular public board meeting on Thursday, March 18.

Joe Powell, coordinator of Pennsbury’s Twilight Program, said the “genesis” of the peer-to-peer program came from a meeting with school board member Allan Weisel, who asked Powell at a polling place during the recent election whether the idea would work here. Weisel, a freshman board member, had introduced the program idea.

“I’m tired of burying students,” Powell said, who has worked in the program for five years. In that time, “we have buried four students who were directly related to the program.

“One was a junior transitioning to the senior year,” Powell explained. “One who had just graduated. Another one was a young man who had been in the program a few years before,” he said.

“I want to be clear on this -- this is not a panacea,” he said. “It’s not something for everything, but one thing Mr. Weisel asked me, ‘Did I think it would have value for our program?’ The one thing I keep kicking myself for is could we have done more? Could I have said something more clear?”

Powell said about the program, “If it saved one student’s life, to me it would be worth it. If you adopt this, we will run a program that would save our children’s lives.”

Paula McSherry fought back the tears when she sat down before the school board. A woman came to sit with her, holding her to console her.

“I had so many things written down,” she said, just managing to speak. “I lost my son, Ian, in December 2008 just a short time before he was supposed to graduate.”

Referring to the program, she said, “This to me is like a no brainer. It’s not going to cost any money. There’s nothing but a positive spin on it.”

“What’s really, really scary to me -- I know heroin is bad. It’s a horrible, horrible, horrible drug, but these pharmaceuticals available to these kids today – they’re a death sentence. And they’re out there…

“These kids are just eating them like its candy,” McSherry said. “It’s a living hell not to have my baby with me.”

She said Ian was an honor roll student. “He was a good kid…He wrote music and he’s gone and I just want to go back and I can’t get him back. It’s done.”

McSherry said the Pennsylvania substance abuse program will be “a good thing for kids. They can connect…If it will get people talking and sharing I think it would be a positive thing.”

One mother, whose son had attended Pennsbury, but transferred out, said that he had died of a heroin overdose in 2008. It started with marijuana, she said.

“Your kids might be out there experimenting,” she warned. If five are smoking marijuana, the chances are that one of them will not be able to give it up, she said.

The parent said it’s too easy to buy oxycontin. Heroin goes for $10 a bag, she said.

“I didn’t watch the money,” she said.

“My son came from a great environment,” she said, noting he was a football star and “had it all.”

“Steven went away to Bloomsburg,” she said. “He failed out his freshman year. We discovered something was wrong.”

“Years and years went by,” the mother continued. “He tried and tried at a full-time job. He really was doing well… The addiction grabbed him and when it did, it was his last injection of heroin…

“You have to stand up and admit you have a problem and take action because if you don’t, this problem will continue to grow,” she said.

She talked about the Calhoun Street Bridge in Morrisville as a path to heroin addiction in Trenton.

“We all know it exists,” she said. “We hear reports. We see it in the newspapers. These kids are going across that bridge at night and I know it because I’ve chased my son trying to find him when he snuck out at 2 in the morning.

“He was going over that bridge to get a bag of heroin,” she said. “If people here don’t think these kids are doing it, you better wake up because otherwise it is going to be one of your children and what will you do?

“Unless you’re brave enough to take action, these drugs will defeat you,” she said.

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