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— High school students heard a different message Tuesday about the dangers of drug abuse and how it’s no closer than the family medicine cabinet.

Robert Stutman, retired U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency agent and former head of its New York City office, came to town to speak to students, teachers, parents and others about the rising abuse of — not marijuana, cocaine or heroin — drugs prescribed by doctors across the nation.

Stutman told about 800 of the school’s 1,500 students in the Walled Lake Western High auditorium that many of them have already used drugs or are considering using them.

“Every day, 2,500 teenagers use a prescription drug to get high for the first time,” Stutman said. “Our society has nearly predestined our children to use drugs. With only 4 percent of the world’s population, the United States consumes 60 percent of the world’s drugs. We see this play out in our teenagers, given, in 13 years their illegal drug use has doubled, and high school students are now describing their schools as drug infested.”

Studies indicate that by the ninth grade, more young people are using Vicodin on a regular basis than marijuana. Additionally, parents are “clueless” to the abuse, he said.

“By the time you feel you have a problem (addiction), it’s too late.”

Deaths from prescription painkillers such as Vicodin and OxyContin nearly quadrupled between 1999 and 2011, according to statistics released last month by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There were 4,263 deaths nationwide in 1999 linked to opioid drugs but, by 2011, the number had climbed to nearly 17,000, the researchers found, adding that it likely climbed even higher.

Many young people are under the misconception that just because something is prescribed, it cannot be addictive or lethal. He said drugs in the opioid class, such as OxyContin, can be “killers” when abused or in the wrong hands.

Stutman, who has served as a consultant on several Hollywood films, stressed he wasn’t there to tell students not to use drugs but to present some facts for them to think about before they might try something. He noted how several street drugs — such as mushrooms — are actually LSD. And what some young users might think is cocaine, may very well be d-Con or rat poison. He said he once bought $10,000 worth of what he thought was cocaine and it turned out to be rat poison.

“Some of you have no interest or will never have interest in drugs,” he said. “Twenty percent of you will not do drugs. Another 20 percent will do drugs. And there are 60 percent who are in the middle ... you don’t know what you’re going to do. ... But when you do make a decision make it for what is right for you.

“I want you to really think about it and realize the consequences.”

After the one-hour program, some of the students said they were impressed by Stutman, especially by stories of fatal overdoses, such as the 2008 death of 29-year-old actor Heath Ledger, who “died from three different drugs prescribed by his doctors.” Ledger’s mother and sister were both doctors; his father, a Ph.D., and Ledger himself was well-educated. At the time of his death he was being paid $21 million to play the role of the Joker in a Batman film.

“You hear the stories he tells — about people like Heath Ledger — you have to feel if it could happen to him, it could happen to anyone,” said Cooper Dayton, a senior.

Ryan Bouffard, another senior, said the presentation “hit home.” Still another, Ryan Tate, said it reinforced, in a different way, something young people have been told for years.

“We’ve been told some of this since we were in kindergarten,” Tate said. “We have control over our actions.”

One of the organizers of the event, Waterford 51st District Judge Jodi Debbecht Switalski, founder of the Regional Anti-Drug Education and Outreach, said it was important to bring Stutman to Oakland County.

“Every day I see kids — they are actually in their 20s and 30s — who are addicted to drugs and in trouble,” she said after the program, which was livestreamed to 17 high schools and 8,000 students across Oakland County.

“Their parents have no idea,” she said. “I felt a sense of responsibility to educate these students and others to the problem.”

She noted parents can do their part to protect their children by buying a $37 firearms safe, and using it to safely store prescription drugs at home.

mmartindale@detroitnews.com

(248) 338-0319

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