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Tough talk is needed to win the opioid war

June 29, 2017
Editorial , Lake Placid News

We support Essex County Coroner Frank Whitelaw's campaign to show students in local schools the brutal reality of what hard drugs lead to - death, and worse.

The death part is not pretty, and before that, drug users suffer physical and mental torture from the chemicals ravaging and manipulating their brains. Their lifestyles become nasty and useless. But the worst part of all is the torture they inflict on family members, friends and other people who love them and try to help them. And the innocent neighbors from whom they steal to feed their habit. And the people whom they infect with their addiction by selling them drugs.

Whitelaw sees the job of coroner as not just taking away bodies and pronouncing people dead, but with an obligation to help educate the public and try to prevent death. He talks to students. The most powerful moment of one of his presentations at the Saranac Lake High School was when he showed the students pictures of a beautiful SLHS graduate, then pictures of her body as it was found after she overdosed a few years later. Then the young woman's parents - wonderful, self-sacrificing local people - got up and told the students about the hell they went through as a result of all this.

Whitelaw has offered to give the same kind of presentation at other schools - middle and elementary as well as high schools - and in April he wrote an op-ed in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise ripping on schools that didn't take him up on the offer.

"What I bring is raw, ugly and it's real life and death," he wrote. "It tears away your insulation from the real world. Turning your eyes away and plugging your ears doesn't make it not exist."

It is tough stuff, no doubt, and this former state trooper is a tough talker. But he's right that, in this particular case, the reality of the current situation calls for that. Parents and students should be able to opt out of such a presentation, but most teenagers are not as fragile as some adults think. They are exposed to plenty of brutal, violent, evil stuff. Look at the music, books, video games, movies, TV shows and websites they consume - that we consumed when we were their age. We let them absorb this fiction, meant for entertainment, which gives few valuable life lessons. Whitelaw's tough presentation about drugs, on the other hand, is essential reality, and it will help make kids strong enough to say no when the time comes. They see these drugs now, perhaps, and they will see more of them in the future. This opioid epidemic is going to be with us for a long time.

On the other hand, it is equally essential to reinforce the notion of community. Much of addiction's evil is that it pulls people further into themselves, where they don't recognize or appreciate the goodness all around them: family, friends, hometown, good people, natural beauty, the God who created and loves it all infinitely.

"I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses," Moses told the Israelites shortly before he died, according to the Bible's book of Deuteronomy (30:19, New International Version translation) "Now choose life, so that you and your children may live."

The way that leads to death is often dressed up to look attractive, vague, non-threatening. The way that leads to life often looks hard, conformist or boring. It's easy to choose the wrong one, especially if one is not crystal-clear on where those roads really lead. And it's very hard to backtrack. Society is adding law enforcement and rehab centers to deal with the opioid epidemic, and rightly so, but a cheaper, possibly more effective way to fight the disease is to lift young people's illusions before they get to that fork in the road. That's what Frank Whitelaw is trying to do.



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