A renowned scientist gave sobering presentation about adolescent drug use Wednesday evening at Kings Park High School, highlighting the disastrous effects drugs can have on an individual.
Stephen Dewey, a neuroscientist who studies the effects of drugs abuse on the brain, was the evening’s speaker. His work at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research has resulted in appearances on 20/20, Dateline and other notable programs.
“There is nothing more tragic than losing a teenager,” said district superintendent Susan Agruso. “We want to make sure that doesn’t happen because we haven’t educated our community.”
The district, in conjunction with local anti-drug task force, Kings Park in the Know, hosted the event, which drew about 120 participants ranging from grandparents, parents and pre-teens.
“Nothing is more important than being in this room,” said KPITK president Maureen Rossi. “You are sending a strong message to your children and saying that you will do anything to protect them from using drugs.”
Drugs today are not what they were years ago and their effects on the brain were not studied in the 60’s and 70’s, Dewey said, adding that opiate use with prescription medications like oxycodone are on the rise.
“50 percent of kids will have tried it for a non-medical reason,” said Dewey. “I have never seen a more rapid increase in a specific drug than the use of opiates,” said Dewey who cited access as the main contributor to use.
“It’s in your medicine cabinet. Kids often move on to heroin because it is cheaper and the high lasts longer,” said Dewey.
Red Bull, Monster Drinks and the caffeine craze is having damaging results as well. A can of soda or a cup of coffee has about 65 mg of caffeine. A can of Red Bull has 250 mg and 5150 Juice has 500 mg. What kids may think is giving them a jolt is damaging their hearts and affecting their brains.
"The most abused drug in the world is caffeine," said Dewey.
In between slides of brain scans and how drugs affect brain activity, Dewey showed images of teens "eyeballing", where the user ingests alcohol through their eyeballs so it cannot be detected on their breath, as well a startling photo of a young girl destroyed by the abuse of methamphetamine.
“Does this really happen in a town like this?” said Monica Revere, a ninth grade student at KPHS who said she was shocked by some of what she saw. “It was informative and something I will share with my friends.”
Anna Castorina, a grandmother, came out to educate herself and said she had plans to speak by herself to her grandchildren about drug abuse.
“The presentation took my breath away. Things are much worse than I ever imagined,” she said.
Parents who came out not only learned the signs of drug abuse and its effects but also were armed with the knowledge that it is preventable.
“Addiction is a disease that is preventable,” said Kim Revere. “I believe, let’s get rid of the demand. That we can do through education. You are never going to get rid of the supply.”
According to the presentation, drugs today are more potent. The pot your teen may be smoking is often laced with methamphetamine, a highly addictive and deadly drug. In a study Dewey conducted on 200 pot smokers, 71 percent of them were found to have meth in their system. Those that tested positive for meth said they never took meth.
"It's not a Hail Mary pass, it's not, 'oh please let my kids get through these years,'" said Rossi. "Reduce the risk factors, get informed."
After the presentation, Dewey said the main reason he comes out to the schools is to stay current on what is going on out there.
"I get from the kids what's going on," said Dewey, who finds many kids to be very honest, wanting to share what's happening and it is that information that keeps him ground engaged.
"As a parent, I see how parents are handling it and what they are seeing and saying to their kids."
At the end of the presentation, two PTA members from the Syosset school district stuck around to speak with Dewey. They came to preview the presentation and decided that it was something they wanted done in their schools.
Dewey said not enough schools are involved and cited Kings Park as being one of the few that consistently conduct these types of programs.
“It’s one of the best. I am so impressed with how they take it on,” he said.