CANTON  Dr. Constantin Farah and his wife, Randa, hosted a free community seminar on how to protect your children from America’s opioid and heroin epidemic on Dec. 6. Farah is a local dentist and has a practice in Jackson Township.

He brought two nationally acclaimed speakers to the area because he and his wife felt compelled to address the epidemic hitting Stark County, Ohio and most other states across the country.

"I have a strong passion for children and my husband and I wanted to bring more awareness on this issue to our community," said Randa. "It is an epidemic that is hitting our area and we need to act as a community to control this crisis."

One of the issues addressed in the presentation was how teenagers often get their first experience with pain killers when they have their wisdom teeth pulled out. One of the statistics presented was that 3.5 million young adults have their wisdom teeth extracted per year.

Both speakers stated that kids and teens are getting the drugs from parents’ medicine cabinets where they store prescriptions from primary physicians, internal medicine doctors, nurse practioners, orthopedic doctors and dentists. Both speakers mentioned that this group of medical professionals are in an "incredibly tough position."

The two speakers were former DEA special agent Bob Stutman and Judge Jodi Switalski. The two-hour presentation was held at the Alex D. Krassas Event Center and adults, parents and community leaders were invited to attend.

Not My Kid

The title of the presentation was "Not My Kid Not My Community." Stutman told the audience that he hears "Not my kid" from parents all the time when it comes to their kids taking drugs.

"We are in the worst drug epidemic in history, I personally have never seen anything like it is today," Stutman said. "The leading cause of death in the U.S. last year was drug overdoses. Over 180 people die of it every day. The majority of those dying from drug overdoses started by using drugs from the family’s medicine cabinet. They are drugs legally prescribed by a physician. I’ve heard kids say they think those drugs are safe because their parents take them."

He went on to say that one of the reasons this epidemic is different is because, "something has changed in the culture in America." He said that the average age of drug users today is 12.5 years old and that kids get their first taste of alcohol away from the family in the fourth grade.

"Parents offer all kinds of excuses why it’s not their kids taking drugs, such as their kids play sports or go to a private or elite high school or they are straight A students. There is a higher rate of substance abuse among kids who play sports. The elite high schools have a higher rate than regular public schools because their parents can afford better prescription drugs," Stutman said.

Stutman blamed some of what is happening today on the pharmaceutical advertisements that started appearing on television in the early 1990s. He said the message received is, if there’s a problem, take a pill.

Most Abused Drugs

Both speakers said the most abused drugs include Adderall, Ritalin, Xanax and opioids such as painkillers, methadone, Demerol, OxyContin and others. Switalski said that 70 percent of the drugs kids get come from a medicine cabinet. She said teens are taking common prescriptions like Xanax from the family medicine cabinet and then putting it in energy drinks like Red Bull.

Another topic that Switalski gave unnerving information about was how high schoolers are using vaping pens, e-cigarettes and JUULS which resemble the size of a cigarette but come in a much smaller size. She told the audience that kids are injecting drugs into the capsules that go in those type of devices. The kids slip the devices into their shirt sleeves and take hits on them even while sitting in class.

Switalski also addressed the use of synthetic drugs and the dangers surrounding the use of such products. She discussed the research into marijuana and how not all of the elements in it have been able to be identified. Plus, some dealers inject other more highly addictive drugs into marijuana.  

"While our kids know a lot about drugs these days including a variety of ways to use them, and how to hide them including inside gum wrappers, calculators, backpacks, small boxes and desk drawers, they really have no idea how powerful these drugs are. It only takes two or three days to develop a physical dependency to pain killers and other prescribed drugs," Switalski said.

She recommended parents, teachers and others look at a website called Erowid at https://www.erowid.org/ because it’s a site where kids are spending a lot of time.

Switalski was adamant that more education is needed for kids and parents because education is a critical component to addressing the problem. Both speakers stressed that another important element is that recovery processes need more attention because treatment only works when there is an effective recovery process available.

Stutman was one of America’s highest profile drug busters for 25 years. He was head of the DEA’s New York office. He was at one time targeted for assassination by a Colombian cartel.  He’s considered one of the nation’s top experts on drugs and speaks to thousands of people a year about today’s prescription drug epidemic.

Switalski was appointed to the bench in 2010. She’s a leader in the fight against synthetic drugs and the opioid epidemic in Michigan. She has received the first ever statewide award, "Integrity in Our Communities." She began a non-profit called RADEO, the Regional Anti-Drug Education and Outreach organization.