Drug abuse presentation made to CHS students
Photos by Diane Drekmann Almost 500 students gathered at Centauri High School on April 13 for a powerful presentation on drug abuse. The event was organized by the La Jara Rotary Club. A clinical doctor from the University of Colorado spoke at the presentation. William Stewart shared his struggles with drug addiction, the difficulties in remaining clean and sober, and the current treatment he receives that has kept him feeling ‘normal’ for 14 months.
LA JARA — Almost 500 students gathered at Centauri High School on April 13 for a powerful presentation on drug abue. The event was organized by the La Jara Rotary Club.
Students listened to testimony from one person who lost a family member to opioids, another person shared the triumph and difficulty with addiction, and a clinical doctor discussed the different types of drugs, and what to look for when someone is overdosing and treatments to help people through withdrawal.
Joe Valdez filled in for an ill Jimmy Johnson and shared the tragic story of Johnson’s son, Zakry Johnson. Zak was a clean cut, popular all conference high school football player, and former student of Centauri Principal Katie Montague, when she was a teacher at Alamosa High School in 2012. Zak sustained a sports-related injury and became addicted to the pain killer Percocet.
Zak's father never imagined his son would be a drug addict. Valdez said there are signs that a person may be becoming addicted. Zak started asking for large sums of money, and eventually started stealing. Zak went from using a couple of pills for pain to grinding them up and smoking the Percocet.
Zak would promise his parents he would quit, but he would not and could not. It's easy to think you're not addicted and can stop whenever you want, Valdez said.
Valdez said, the final tragedy occurred when Zak, sitting in a car surrounded by police, told his dad, "I won't go to jail. I love you. You're a good dad. It's not your fault." Zak then used a gun and ended his life.
Jimmy Johnson wanted to share his story so that people can learn what to look for in someone who may be addicted, and he also hopes Zak's story can prevent someone from choosing that path.
William Stewart shared his struggles with drug addiction, the difficulties in remaining clean and sober, and the current treatment he receives that has kept him feeling "normal" for 14 months.
"I'm 36 years old. I should be talking about my career and home, but I lost all of that. I started doing drugs at 16. By 18, I was doing meth and opiates by 20," Stewart said.
He went to prison, was on probation, went three times to rehabilitation, but he was not ready to stop. Stewart knew he had to stop using drugs.
"Prison is gonna break you. You're gonna stop,” he said, but it didn’t. "I got out of prison. I'm sober. What do I do now."
William was sober for 36 months. He got married and had a good-paying job.
"But the demon was on my back. I did some heroin and then lost three years of my life," Stewart said.
Addiction is strong, but can be treated with medicine that blocks the pleasurable effects of drugs, a clinical doctor said during the presentation.
Stewart has been clean for 14 months with the help of a medically assisted treatment.
A clinical doctor from the University of Colorado gave an insightful presentation about drug abuse. She said people have natural "feel good" endorphins. Opioid drugs, like morphine, heroin, or codeine "mimic" those feelings. Problems occur when mixing drugs, like cough medicine with heroin or morphine with Benadryl. That can cause an overdose. Opiates produce a condition called opiate disorder.
"Breathing becomes shallow. The upper chest moves slower, thought processes are affected. There is a feeling of intoxication, sedation, and euphoria," she said.
She said pill-related overdoses increased with the introduction of oxycodone in the late 1990s. People were told the drug was not addictive. Since 2010, heroin has become popular again. The main drug of choice is now fentanyl. Fentanyl is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine. The problem with fentanyl is that it stays in the body's fat and the more one uses, the more the body retains, so the dosage is actually much higher. Fentanyl is now the most common way to overdose, she said.
The brain will associate pleasure with the drug and things that used to bring pleasure don't anymore, she said. The brain cells die over time. You'll never be the same. But you don't have to suffer at home.
There are drugs that can help a person withdraw.
“There are a number of drugs that help a person withdraw from destructive drugs. One is an opioid receptor and blocks the pleasure area. Kratom is an opioid-like tropical tree stimulant, and is used as a mood booster, but there is not enough research about its effects and is not regulated. Narcan is a very popular treatment,” she said.
Centauri Principal Montague said, “Centauri has about 12 doses of Narcan available."
The doctor shared the warning signs of possible overdose, "If a person is unconscious, has pinpoint pupils, has blue lips or nails. They have shallow or no breathing. Try to keep the person awake and on their side so they don't choke."
Overdose is the same for drugs or alcohol. People may feel ashamed and try to cover up drug use and not talk about it.
"Get help sooner rather than later,” the doctor said. “The problem will only get worse. It is not shameful."
Children are smart and think of all kinds of inventive ways to hide their drug use. She said talk to your peers. Be a friend to fellow students. Let them know there is help out there.
The problem of drug addiction is particularly severe in rural areas like the San Luis Valley. The doctor said, "people get chronic pain due to farming or construction, and get addicted to pain medication, like Oxycodone. Children have to find different ways of having fun."
Join sports, find a hobby, or volunteer. Helping someone else is a way to create positive memories and behaviors, she said.
For help with drug or alcohol addition, call the SLV Community Resource Guide at 719-937-4010, or the Opioid Crisis Hotline is 1-844-493-8255.