By GAIL OBER, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — When 36 Laconia High School students representing all grades headed on to a bus to the Tsongas Arena in Lowell for a youth opioid awareness summit last week, most of them didn't know what to expect.
Sponsored by Stand Up Laconia, what they got was a full day of music and entertainment from some of Boston's top DJs and bands along with a short movie, "If Only" produced by Jim Wahlberg, brother of musician-turned-actor Mark Wahlberg or Marky Mark of the Funky Bunch, said LHS/LMS Curriculum Coordinator Angel Burke.
They also saw first hand hand how opioid addiction can kill them. They heard from athletes, including two former members of the New England Patriots, who spoke about how an opioid addiction can stem from something as innocuous as an injury sustained during high school athletics.
But the part that impressed the Laconia students the most was when 50 parents took the stage and held pictures of their teenagers who had died from opioid overdoses.
Many were also impressed by how quickly some people can get addicted to opioids.
During a quick debriefing of some of the students, many said that the "pills party" pictured in the movie wasn't necessarily representative of their own experiences.
Prevention, Education and Training Officer Eric Adams said the students in Laconia are likely correct in that assumption. He said "pill parties" were more common two to four years ago, but that many parents have heard the message and are destroying pills they don't use and better protecting the ones they do.
Adams said that these days, the usual path to opioids begins with marijuana, which kids in the latest Yearly Risk Behavior Survey perceived as very low risk and then graduate to other drugs like cocaine, opioids and methamphetamine.
"Kids do perceive of opioids as being dangerous," Adams said, referring again to the study.
"But like up here," said one young man, "It's a heroin problem. They talked about pills that lead to heroin use."
Many felt that their parents could benefit by seeing "If Only" which is a short film about how one parent learns her son has tested positive for opioids and marijuana and tries to tell the mother of her son's best friend, who refused to listen to her.
In a private interview with a senior, he said he's bored in the winter in the Lakes Region. He said some sports are very expensive, like skiing and hockey," and most of his free time is spent "hanging out with his friends" where he says there is plenty of peer pressure to try drugs including alcohol, cigarettes and vapes.
He said he was glad he attended the opioid summit but when asked if younger kids, like middle schoolers, could benefit from it, he said they were too young.
"I saw a lot of them there (from other schools) and they were mostly giggling and not paying attention," he said.
A freshman girl with a relative who is in recovery agreed that it was not compelling enough to hold the attention of middle schoolers.
She also said that she thought the program was going to be much more geared toward heroin and cocaine, and not pills, which was not her experience.
As for what both felt that the city of Laconia could do for adolescents, both said there needs to be a place where they can "hang out" and visit with their friends, especially in the winter. They said something not as structured as the Community Center, which focuses on teams and sports but also not something like the Boys and Girls Clubs, which they both said they were too old for. Both said they like the beaches and the skate parks in the summer but there was no place in the cold months.
"Maybe the city could do a teen night, once a month or something," said the girl. She said she is aware that many churches sponsor these events but said many of the kids she knows in high school aren't very religious.
Both thought the opioid summit was inspiring, especially the part about where the mothers held up pictures of their dead children.
Both also said their parents could benefit from seeing the movie, "If Only."
Back in class, Stand Up Sachems, in conjunction with Stand Up Laconia, along with Burke and Drug and Alcohol Counselor Jessica Conrad planned for more community events like a parent reach-out night, teen dances and the recent Empty Bowls event.
These students from Stand Up Sachems at Laconia High School attended an opioid awareness summit in Massachusetts on Dec. 6. (Courtesy photo)
Clare Persson, right, and Solary Chhun, foreground, enjoyed the summit. Behind them are, from right: Destiny Jones, Jeremy Connolly, Gabbie D'jovnik, Riley Roy, Steve Towers and Jake Filgate. (Courtesy photo)
Mystique Mora, left, and Brooke D'Amato attended the event. (Courtesy photo)