More than 200 parents and students attended a presentation of the newest chapter of the Narcotics, Overdose, Prevention and Education (NOPE) Task Force last week at Sun Valley High School. The evening program came on the heels of a training session, followed by presentations held earlier in the day for the entire Sun Valley High School student body.
With about 20 large head shots of young people who died of prescription drug or heroin overdoses looming in the background, NOPE Task Force training manager Laura Guelzow said prescription drug and heroin abuse is plaguing every community in the United States. She told heartbreaking stories of young people in the pictures; the youngest being 13 years old.
“All of the kids pictured here could have been saved,” Guelzow said. “Others knew they were doing drugs and were afraid to tell. We want to empower students to become heroes to their friends and family members. We need students to realize it’s not telling or snitching and that these are life and death situations. Every story behind me had missed opportunities.”
NOPE was formed in Palm Beach, FL. in 2004 to combat illegal use of prescription drugs, narcotics and other abused substances.
Guelzow was there to oversee training and to introduce the new Delaware County chapter.
She said at the Sun Valley student session held earlier in the day, that pupils entered the auditorium cheerful, laughing and chatting, but after a short video was shown, there was complete silence in the room.
“And they stayed silent throughout the entire presentation,” Guelzow said.
During the presentation, the students were asked to stand and answer two questions.
“We asked (those) who knew someone that was using drugs or alcohol to be seated,” Guelzow said. “About three-fourths of the students sat down. Then we asked how many of them actually told someone about their friend’s drug or alcohol use and only 10 to 20 more stood back up.”
Guelzow told students to be empowered because the earlier the intervention, the better.
“Don’t be afraid you will get into trouble,” she said. “Call 911 and please put life first. Be a hero and tell someone.”
At the parent session, Sun Valley graduate Mitch Vidovich, a legislative aide to U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), said statistically, prescription drugs account for three-fourths of all drug overdoses in Pennsylvania, and dying of a drug overdose is more likely than succumbing to a motor vehicle accident.
“Where are these drugs coming from?” he asked. “It has been determined that 70 percent of overdoses result from drugs obtained from friends and family and 30 percent of deaths result from an individual abusing drugs prescribed by a physician, from a (drug) dealer or an internet purchase.”
Calling the matter an “epidemic in the county,” state Rep. Joe Hackett (R-161), of Ridley, a 26-year police veteran, said he has taken part in hearings throughout the state.
“We will be voting on a bill — the Good Samaritan Law — which provides protection for those who call to get help for someone who is having a drug overdose,” he said. “Look, we have a serious problem on our hands. This epidemic of prescription drug and heroin abuse is not only here in Delaware County, but in the entire Commonwealth.”
Hackett said his good friend died of a drug overdose.
“If only someone had made that call, my friend would be here today,” Hackett said. “I want the legislature to know that this is an epidemic. At this point, I don’t care about the privatization of liquor or about all the other things coming down the road. When our people are dying, we need to do something. Take away the stigma; people who get hooked on drugs are not bad people; they are good people that got tripped up and made bad choices… All the talk has to stop and we need some action,” Hackett said.”
As Aston resident Tricia Stouch and her oldest daughter, Colleen Stouch Stahler, stood at the podium, a slightly audible sound of crying could be heard. With a video playing in the background, Stouch shared the heartbreaking story of how her 19 year old daughter, Pamela, a 2008 Sun Valley graduate, fought and lost her battle with drugs.
The room was intensely quiet as Stouch told of her daughter’s downward spiral and how Pamela’s drug abuse affected the entire family, even to this day.
Stahler read an excerpt from her sister’s diary titled, Why I use, that chronicled Pamela’s addiction and fear of no escape.
Stouch was instrumental in having the NOPE Chapter established here.
“It’s too late for my daughter,” she said, “but I might be able to help somebody else’s child.”
Other speakers included Trish Caldwell of the Keystone Recovery Center, who offered parenting strategies; and Darrell Briggs, a Mirmont Treatment Center counselor.
Alcohol and marijuana abuse was also discussed.
Guelzow said a third of students surveyed reported they attended parties where alcohol is served to them by their own parent or parents of friends.
“The parents have good intentions and I understand that they are afraid to have their children go out and drink at other places, but if you allow your underage child and their friends to drink at your house, they are more likely to drink elsewhere,” she said. “It is also against the law.”
Following the presentation, Guelzow said she believes students and parents got the message.
“The students were very receptive and I believe they understand that their actions can save someone’s life,” Guelzow said.