Students learn realities of drug abuse

There’s nothing like learning from someone who’s “been there” and “done that.”
Grade 7/8 students in Mine Centre, Atikokan, and from J. W. Walker School here heard from two men on Friday—including one who used to be a drug user and a drug dealer.
Don Young, program manager with Superior Points Harm Production program in Thunder Bay, reflected on some of the lower points of his life in order to show the students the harm drugs cause.
“I’ve been in jail, lived in an abandoned truck, and have attempted suicide,” recalled the pierced and tattooed man, adding he also has some brain and nerve damage because of his past lifestyle.
“I don’t want to frighten or alarm you, but to tell you the truth,” Young stressed.
Brian Brattengeier, with the Thunder Bay OPP Tri-force Unit, also offered his thoughts to the students.
“We’re here to be honest with you and talk openly about a problem we see in your community,” Brattengeier remarked, noting he wants to get the information out there so students make the right choices.
The pair began their presentation by asking the students what a drug is—any substance that alters the mind or body state.
Therefore, they explained, chocolate and coffee are both considered drugs.
“You feel better when you eat chocolate . . . and your parents probably get cranky if they don’t have their coffee, right?” Young remarked.
Then they asked the students a series of questions and had the youngsters respond by raising their hands.
“How many of you have seen someone your age smoke?” Brattengeier asked and the majority of hands shot up in the air.
They continued by asking if they have seen someone their age take pills, drink alcohol, smoke pot, eat “magic” mushrooms, take acid, or take drugs with a needle.
At least one hand went up in response to every question.
“You’re not unlike any other group in the province,” Brattengeier indicated, noting his brother was a cocaine addict at 12 years of age.
Young said he made the choice to start taking drugs at 13.
“You have to make choices that will impact the rest of your life,” he noted. “When I started taking drugs, I gave up my choices and options.”
He described how, as a drug dealer, he would target students in their early to mid-teens in order to get hem hooked and make money.
“We would give them free dope—we called it investing,” he explained. “You thought I was your friend, but really you were my victim. You were just money to us.”
The pair stressed they don’t want kids taking drugs, but added they will have a choice to make.
The students were showed pictures of how people looked just years after using drugs, as well as told them of the many risks and dangers.
They noted the most addictive drug is nicotine, as well as adding that drugs are a problem in Rainy River District.
“Peer pressure is a big challenge you face,” Young said. “But I now have enough respect and dignity to not take anyone’s [b.s.] Don’t buy into the peer pressure—be the best you can be.”
He explained some kids think if they start drugs, they can just get help later by going into treatment.
“After one year of treatment, only 30 percent are clean,” he warned. “Treatment doesn’t rescue everyone.”
Young also stressed it’s important to start looking after each other in society.
“Because if we don’t, who will?” he asked. “You are the generation that can do so much change.”
Brattengeier questioned the students as to whether they thought Young would have made the choice to start taking drugs if he knew the consequences.
They all said “no.”
“We always hope we get the message across,” he said following the presentation at Walker. “It’s their choice, but we want them to make informed decisions and know what they are doing. . . .
“If we just stood up here and said ‘Don’t do drugs,’ I don’t think it would be as effective.”
Hugh Dennis, co-ordinator of the Rainy River District Substance Abuse Prevention Team, which brought in the speakers, said he feels drugs are a very important issue to address.
“It’s scary to see kids of that age raising their hands to those questions,” he said, adding he saw Brattengeier and Young speak at the Mayor’s Summit on Drug Abuse in Dryden a few months ago.
“I thought they’d be able to get the message out throughout the district,” Dennis said.