Drug Store Project pushes to prevent drug use
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – Ten years ago, almost to the day, 11-year-old Claudia Torres was dropped off unconscious at Barton Memorial Hospital. After medical efforts to revive her failed, she died. The cause of death: Cocaine overdose.
Middle school teacher Sandy Moulton, whose class Torres was in, remembers the pain and confusion among the youth’s classmates. Moulton recounted the tragic story to her current class Tuesday during the annual Drug Store Project, a community-sponsored program that aims to prevent children and teens from using drugs.
“This is great,” Moulton said. “I’m so glad we’re doing something proactive.”
The Drug Store Project took about 350 sixth-grade students from four schools through a series of drug-related vignettes that become increasingly serious. The program began with the introduction of gateway drugs and ended with a simulated funeral for a classmate and an opportunity for students to talk about their experiences with law enforcement and mental health professionals.
Before her death, witnesses said Torres attended a party where she was offered drugs by an older male, Jose Rodriguez-Perez, who was never arrested or charged. The Drug Store Project featured a similar scenario.
Teens from the South Tahoe chapter of Friday Night Live acted out a party scene in front of middle schoolers. In the act, they danced, they drank, and then the drugs came out. One of the actors fell to the floor and the music faded. Everyone in the cast pretended not to know or care about the overdosing teenager.
The difference between Claudia’s story and the enactment is that the police and ambulance arrive. The teens acting as adults are arrested. The youngster on the ground is saved.
The Drug Store Project is sponsored by dozens of organizations that donate money, resources and time. The program costs about $17,000, around $50 per student. That’s a small amount considering how much intervention can cost, said Lisa Huard, Drug Store Project coordinator.
“Unfortunately the money comes in waves for prevention and the wave has gone way out,” Huard said. “Intervention costs so much more.”
In addition to direct drug prevention, the project tries to encourage parents to communicate with their children about drugs and alcohol. Parents are expected to fill out a survey brought home by the student.
“The goal is that these kids will go home and start the conversation or continue the conversation,” Huard said.
The Drug Store Project also shows the community that drugs and alcohol are a problem in the Tahoe community, said Alissa Nourse, executive director of Tahoe Youth and Family Services, which sponsors the event. But the best part about it is that it teaches the students the value of their choices, she added.
“Kids often feel like all their choices are made for them,” Nourse said. “When it comes to drugs and alcohol, it’s their choice.”
Huard hoped that the children would come away with the knowledge to make responsible choices, she said.
“The choices they make affect everyone they’re connected to,” Huard said. “It’s just a huge ripple when they’re successful and when something destructive happens.”
Huard has been working with school districts and community service organizations to put on the event for the last eight years. Two years ago she lost her 30-year-old son to an overdose of pain medication.
“Everybody’s family is at risk,” Huard said.
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