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Drug, alcohol discussion sheds light on consequences

Chemical health coordinator Sara Bowles, right, and Melissa Perrault discuss ways to avoid drug and alcohol addiction in Hubbard County. (Riham Feshir / Enterprise)

As Sheree Gitchel pulled up to Laporte School one afternoon, she overheard a couple of young teenage girls discuss ways they can exchange prescription drugs to get high.

"My jaw dropped," she said. "These girls were 13, 14 years old."

Parents don't realize that some of the things teenagers use to get high are readily accessible in the medicine cabinet or even the kitchen, like cooking spray, she said.

Gitchel was one of many parents and teens who attended a town hall meeting with the Hubbard County Youth Drug and Alcohol Task Force Sunday at Park Theatre, where graphic videos were shown and statistics were presented.

Sara Bowles, chemical health coordinator for the task force in Hubbard County along with Melissa Perrault, who works on a regional level, discussed ways to prevent drug and alcohol problems in the future. One way is to educate parents and their children starting at a young age.

"We want to get these actual statistics out to let kids know that it's okay not to drink," Bowles said.

The perception of drug use among sixth through 12th graders is about 95 percent, she said from doing her own research here in Hubbard County.

The overall percentage of Minnesota 12th graders who drink and use drugs is 31 to 37 percent, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

Because the percentage was low compared to what teens see, hear and experience, attendees questioned the accuracy of the surveys.

Perrault and Bowles said surveyors look at the trends and answers from questions in the survey to make sure they're accurate. For example, some surveys might ask the same question in different ways to check the validity of the answers.

'Through a Blue Lens'

Discussion continued after the movie-viewing portion of the event.

The documentary "Through a Blue Lens" and state troopers' footage of real life crashes caused by alcohol use were presented.

"Through a Blue Lens" is a documentary shot in a Canadian neighborhood where drug use is popular. The Odd Squad, a group of Vancouver police officers, shot the film that featured drug addicts to show young kids live examples of the consequences of drug use.

"There really isn't any happiness, this is misery, this is a form of slavery," said Nicolah, a drug addict featured in the film.

With scars on every part of her body from sticking needles while she used heroin and cocaine, the woman, who's in her 40s, said she's used drugs since the age of 15.

Living on the streets, she ran out of money for food, clothing and shelter.

Other addicts in the video lose touch with their family and friends. They prostitute themselves to get money for a fix, become hysterical and suffer from hallucinations.

Following the movie, Bowles compared the Canadian neighborhood with Park Rapids and said we may not have an alley where drug users pass out from overdosing, but alcohol is a big problem here.

"Alcohol abuse is one of the most addictive and most difficult to recover from," Bowles said.

She added that we don't have addicts in the streets, but there are homeless people living in cars and around trailer parks who depend on each other to get drugs.

"It's a very tight network," Bowles said.

The films put images to what some audience members may have already known about the consequences of drug and alcohol use.

"It's traumatizing, but not too traumatizing," a movie viewer said.

"I cried. As a mother, I cried," Gitchel said after watching violent Minnesota crashes where many teenagers died from driving under the influence.

"It's a quick death for a lot of people," state trooper Dion Pederson said.

Quite a few people who attended the forum said they knew someone who was killed in a car crash.

Pederson said Minnesota saw 400 fatal car crashes just in the last year and sadly most of them could have been prevented.

They're caused by poor decisions, such as not wearing seat belts, texting while driving, not paying attention to the road while talking on cell phones and drinking and driving, he said.

"We rarely go a year without a fatality crash in our station," state trooper Sue Pederson said.

She added that excessive use of energy drinks could also be a factor in reckless driving because of the tremendous amount of stimulant caffeine in them.

Drug use at local schools

Some parents asked how students at local schools get a hold of illegal drugs when the area isn't a popular drug trafficking destination.

"A lot of it is being shared at the school," Park Rapids police chief Terry Eilers said. "It's not like there is a drug dealer right outside of the school."

From the research that Bowles has done, students hide drugs in their lipstick tubes or Visine containers and chop up Adderall and dissolve it in water.

Presenters suggested the following solutions:

-Educate kids as young as the kindergarten age;

-Monitor what kids search on Google and Youtube;

-Empty medicine cabinets from old prescription drugs and narcotics that you no longer need;

-Watch for signs of drug use: Hallucination, sudden drop in academic performance, change in behavior that's not necessarily because they're becoming teenagers, the smell of marijuana and cigarettes in their clothes, sores around the mouth that can be caused from meth use.

"It's more than just educating the children, it's about educating parents too," Gitchel said.