Scaring Kids Straight, Off Methadone

The prescription painkiller methadone, the same substance used for decades to try to help heroin addicts give up that drug, is quietly killing teenagers who abuse it.

But now, a group of mothers who lost their children to methadone and other drugs is taking action with an emotional message aimed at scaring kids straight.

As The Early Show national correspondent Tracy Smith explains in the second of two parts, the program is called NOPE, which stands for Narcotics Overdose Prevention Education. Parents and schools in Florida, which has been hit hard by the problem, are joining forces to combat it.

NOPE is aimed at users and potential users of other drugs, not just methadone.

The presentations are powerful, as Smith found out when she attended one at William Dwyer High School in North Palm Beach, Fla.

Assistant Florida State Attorney Martin Epstein told the assembled students: "Your friend next to you can take one methadone pill and be dead! You'll be at the funeral and say, 'Oh my god, how did he do it?' "

Like many anti-drug programs, NOPE is designed to shock: Kids are confronted with giant portraits of victims in life and death.

Referring to one such photo, Epstein said: "His body could not take the methadone. Took one pill and he's dead! And a friend gave it to him. … 'A joke! Try it!' "

Then, just as attention began to wander, people were brought out to reach even the most apathetic teen: drug overdose victims' mothers.

"And now, John's dead," a teary-eyed Suzanne Sardinha said, sniffling. "And I don't have John anymore and, let me tell you, I wish every day I had him. It's not easier, not one moment easier. The shock's gone, but it's not one moment easier."

"It's been two years now, and there's not a day goes by that I don't miss my son," said a crying Karen Perry.

Richie Perry died of an overdose in 2003, but his mother spoke as if it had happened the night before.

"We just talked briefly and," she said, "at the end of the conversation, he said to me, 'I love you, Ma.' And I said, 'I love you, too, Richie.' And we hung up. That was the last time I ever spoke to my son.

"It was three days later that we got that knock on the door. … The deputies came in and they simply said to us, at 2 o'clock in the morning, 'He's dead.' "

As shaken students in the audience dabbed their eyes, held their heads in their hands, and openly wept, Perry continued: "I held Richie's hand when he was 5-years-old to cross the street. I held his hand when he was 12 and got his tonsils out. I was not there to hold his hand the day he died, and that breaks my heart.

"If you don't stop, you will die."

For nearly an hour, the mothers' voices were the only sound in the room.

"I'm gonna tell you," stressed Sardinha, choking back tears, "that you guys will know if one of your friends are doing drugs and alcohol before mom will. And you've got to find the courage, and it's not a bad thing, you've got to find the courage to call somebody, somebody that can get them help."

Elizabeth Baldwin and her older sister, Caitlin, both of whom abused drugs in the past, both told Smith NOPE has actually changed their way of thinking.

"I don't want to do drugs anymore," Caitlin said, "and I want to help people who are having problems with that."

Said Elizabeth: "It makes me realize that it could happen to me."

Asked by Smith if it was literally something where they saw the stories and said to themselves, "Oh, my goodness, that could be me," both Baldwins said, "Yes."

Prior to NOPE, Smith pointed out, four kids in the district overdosed in a year-and-a-half.
Since the program began in 2003, there have been no overdose deaths in the district.

Smith offered two important pieces of advice to parents: Lock up your prescriptions, even if you don't think your kid would do anything. That's what a lot of these mothers thought. And, if you hear your kid snoring, and he or she has never snored before, that could be a sign of a methadone overdose.
  • Brian Dakss

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