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Schools Reach Out to the Community to Fight Drug Abuse

Blackstone Valley Regional High School students Andrea Matellian of Upton and Connor Nolen of Douglas took part in a simulation of a field sobriety test conducted by BVT School Resource Officer Carl Ambrosino of the Upton Police Department. Students put on goggles that simulated the effects that alcohol has on balance and depth perception and the dangers of driving drunk. The simulation was one of dozen health related activities at a Valley Tech Student Wellness Fair held on March 20. BVT photo







Reacting to the recent rise in drug overdoses in the area, local schools have reached out to parents and community members to build awareness and to help take preventative measures against substance abuse.

On March 24, dozens of community members, students, parents, town officials, school administrators and staff attended a Substance Abuse Community Forum and Discussion at Nipmuc Regional High School coordinated by School Nurse Kristin Gauthier, School Adjustment Counselor Kerry Fagan, and Social Work Intern Charlene Tebo. This was the second year in a row Nipmuc has hosted the forum in hopes of building awareness about substance abuse and opening up dialog on how the community can work together to support the health and wellness of the youth.

Approximately 90 people attended the event which included three different presentations and an open discussion on the topic of substance abuse. With both professional and first-hand experiences of substance abuse, the three speakers discussed on how to recognize the signs of drug abuse, what drugs are being abused, and how those affected by addiction and their families can get help.

Kerri McCleary, Program Director for Y.O.U Inc., a multi-service non-profit agency that provides local social and psychological preventive and rehabilitation programs; and Terri Nabulsi, Parent Facilitator for Learn2Cope, a support group for parents and family members of those with addiction problems, spoke about how experimentation can turn into abuse which can turn into dependence, and gave practical advice to parents on the warning signs and precautions that should be taken to avoid substance abuse.

Speaking first-hand about the dangers of drug addiction, 24-year-old recovering addict Kailin Krikorian spoke candidly to the audience about her life as a drug user, telling them that she began as many users do, with alcohol and marijuana. "I never thought I was that bad of a drug addict because I didn't use heroin [at the beginning] or a needle," she said. Krikorian said that once she turned to opiates, including heroin, she quickly became dependent on them and headed downhill very quickly. "After a while a drug habit, and hiding a drug habit, becomes a full time job," she said. After multiple rehabilitation stays, Krikorian has been sober for over a year, and today she works with Learn2Cope, helping women "get back on their feet."

After the presentations, the attendees were asked to participate in an open discussion to "explore questions that matter." Breaking up into small groups, with a mix of age ranges, backgrounds, and professions, people sat at tables and had answered facilitated questions such as "what do you think the community can do to address concerns of adolescent use and abuse of substances?" Participants had about 10 minutes before they rotated to other tables to answer additional questions. At the end of the evening, the questions and answers were discussed with the group as a whole. Common themes that came out of the small group discussions included the need for more education on the risks of opiates out in the community and to help parents find ways to talk to their children about substance abuse.

"Our hope is that tonight, we had conversations that will take on a life of their own," said Fagan, who helped facilitate the discussions.

In an interview after the forum, Gauthier said that she was encouraged by the turnout of the Substance Abuse Forum, and hopes that the community will stay engaged with this important topic. "This is not just a school issue, it is a community issue," she said. Gauthier said they hope to continue to provide informational programs about substance abuse including education workshops for parents on how to talk to their kids about drugs, and to bring back Worcester County Sheriff Lew Evangelidis, who visited Nipmuc in May 2012 to talk to students about the dangers of substance abuse in his "Face2Face" program.

Across the street from Nipmuc, Blackstone Valley Regional Technical High School (BVT) is also making substance abuse awareness and education a priority. BVT School Nurse Dawn Cater said that the school provides "many" support services for students including mental health counselors for students with anxiety and depression issues and yearly depression screening of all incoming freshmen. Last year, BVT also had the "Face2Face" program come to the school, and hopes to bring in a presenter during prom season to talk to the students about the dangers of alcohol and drinking and driving. "We talk to our students on an ongoing basis about making good choices in their life and to think about the consequences of their actions," said Cater.




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