Above the Influence program reminds students of tragedies of drug use

As part of Whittier's ongoing efforts to curb drug and alcohol abuse, students attended a special Above the Influence presentation this week to hear from people directly affected by substance abuse.

The Above the Influence campaign is made up of advisers from both Whittier and Haverhill High School and brings programs and activities to students to educate them on the harmful effects of drug and alcohol and the importance of making healthy decisions.

On Monday, Oct. 29, students in grades nine through 12 attended a presentation in Whittier's auditorium to listen to a community impact panel made up of first responders and community members. They included Jean Walker, who supports victims of domestic violence; Colin LePage, whose son died from a drug overdose three years ago; emergency medical technician Kirk Brigham; Lea Forster, a mental health counselor who helps youth affected by substance use disorders; and Haverhill Police Officer Jamey Landry, Whittier’s School Resource Officer.

Panel members touched on a number of topics, and explained that when teens use substances, it often leads to a lifetime of struggle with addiction. Forster added that those tempted to turn to drugs to cope with stressful situations should look into alternatives, like listening to music, talking to a friend or trusted adult and even interacting with a pet.

“Everyone in this room has a lot to offer,” Forster said. “Substances cloud over that. You matter very much to your friends and family and you aren’t able to fully show up in your life if you are using drugs or alcohol.”

Walker also touched on how many domestic violence calls stem from drug or alcohol abuse, while LePage shared a heart wrenching account of his son's struggle with addiction, which eventually took his life.

“Listening to the father who lost his son made me think it’s important to get help and not take anyone for granted,” said freshman Madison Griffin, of Haverhill.

Twice a day in Haverhill, EMTs are called to revive a person who has overdosed, and more than 30 people die each year from drug use in the city, Brigham explained. Programs like Whittier's Above the Influence are working to curtail these numbers by assisting those at risk of struggling with addiction early on.

“The research shows that getting help in the teen years has the best outcome," Forster added. "Changes in the brain caused by addictive substances can make it more difficult to stop later in life."

At the end of the presentation, students were asked to seek help for themselves and friends who need it. Some students were visibly moved by the information presented and said it made them think about family members or friends who are suffering from substance use disorder.

“It was a touching presentation,” said freshman Travis Lane, of Merrimac. “It’s hard to watch people I care about make mistakes. I can’t imagine losing someone.”

Whittier’s Above the Influence program is run by Physical Education and Health Instructor Roxanne Grover, English Teacher Katy Parsons, math teacher Elizabeth Teixeira and history teacher Stephanie Hatchell. It is paid for through the Shannon Community Safety Initiative, a state-wide program to address gang and youth violence.

Brigham and LePage are also members of The Haverhill Overdose Prevention and Education (HOPE) Task Force.

Whittier Tech