Wednesday’s school-wide assembly was an important step in battling against drug abuse in West Bend
By Lauren Sorensen, Current Staff
Nobody wants to talk about addiction. Nobody wants to talk about the horrible reality of a life that revolves around finding your next fix. Nobody wants to raise their hand and own up to being a user. Nobody plans on dying of an overdose.
Teenagers are not invincible.
On Wednesday, students of the West Bend High Schools attended a presentation addressing the dangers of opioid use. The presentation included speakers ranging from recovering addicts to a Washington County detective. Students watched as the pits after a high were relived on stage through first-hand accounts.
The trials and tribulations of high school are a universal understanding. Peer pressure is anticipated in a world of cliques. “Just say no” becomes synonymous with “don’t miss your curfew.” Yet the haze of substance abuse seems to hang heavy over the community. Rumors fly of the current “heroin epidemic” plaguing West Bend neighborhoods.
When the speakers asked students to raise their hands if they knew someone who used drugs, nearly every hand in the room was seen in the air.
It is time to utter the words no one wants to own up to: West Bend has a drug problem. And this problem won’t solve itself. Common sense would say to crack down on the problem, to kill what is killing us.
It is easy to dish out “just say no” and insist “this could never happen to me.” But heroin addicts are not “just the homeless guy shooting up under the bridge,” said Anthony Alvarado, co-founder of Rise Together, in the presentation.
Why does Rise Together, a recovery advocacy group, target young audiences such as high schoolers? “It’s the next generation of people that we could possibly lose to addiction,” said Douglas Darby, ex-addict and Rise Together co-founder, in an interview with The Current.
The next generation to enter the adult world was sitting in the auditorium Wednesday.
“It is time to utter the words no one wants to own up to: West Bend has a drug problem.”
The drug problem exists in the hallways of a high school, where college, careers, and bright futures seem to be made. But what about those who fall between the cracks and land on the threshold between incarceration and an overdose?
“Addicts are often labeled as criminals,” said Darby in an interview. The malignant growth of addiction leaves no one immune. There is no stereotypical “druggies” anymore. Addiction will wedge itself into every aspect of life and mutilate everything in its path. Simply trying an opioid such as heroin does not exist. After your first time shooting up, your life is forever changed.
“Addiction is a scary topic, just in general. It can be seen as dirty. You are talking about death, you are talking about disease, you are talking about something that has been claimed to be a moral deficiency but yet it is a disease of addiction,” said Alvarado in an interview with The Current.
Chuckling about the stereotypical smog of “druggies” in high school is immature and superficial. The gravity of the issue is the farthest thing from funny. It is time to look ourselves in the eye and acknowledge the reality of shooting up to escape life’s hardships and the legitimacy of withdrawals rattling the human body. The cartoon version of reality in which drugs are reserved for party-animals on the weekend is a façade.
In the deepest pits of addiction, loneliness is masked by the drugs coursing through veins. Addiction is a floor that is constantly falling beneath you with no one there to catch you. Why would someone get involved with something so destructive?
Getting high is a quick fix. It is sought out to solve problems and make people feel invincible. Maybe one feels shy and it gives him or her confidence. Maybe one is suffering and for a couple of delicious moments, the pain subsides.
But drugs do not solve problems, they distract people from small hiccups as they manufacture ultimate destruction. “Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional,” said Darby in the presentation.
Sobriety does not come easily. The world gets tougher, and more people look for an escape. But how do we escape from a demon that the body craves?
Why do Alvarado and Darby do it? Why do they share the hell that used to be their lives? “Truthfully, as cliché as it is, if we can stop one person… as long as I got to one kid, it is worth it,” said Darby in an interview.
If we are to conquer this beast, West Bend must come together. We have to support those being stabbed by the pangs of addiction and we have to remember that life is precious. We have to rise together as the next generation to make a difference.
“Know that you are not alone,” said Darby. “And it is okay to ask for help,” said Alvarado.
(Image: Students attend the Jan. 28 assembly in the high school auditorium. Photograph courtesy of Jennifer Mesko, West High speech and language teacher.)
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