On March 5-6, Westwood Intermediate and Middle School students in Blaine learned from people in recovery about preventing alcohol and drug abuse.
On March 5 Casey Andrus and Anthony Pitaro with Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge’s Know the Truth campaign came to speak to students in seventh and eighth grade as part of their health class.
The Know the Truth campaign is a substance-use prevention program targeting teenagers in Minnesota. During the program students hear from people who are in recovery, learn about the dangers of so-called gateway drugs and are provided additional recourse for further assistance. The program leaders speak to more than 58,000 students per year in over 160 high schools and middle schools throughout the state.
“Our team really tries to busts any myths or misconceptions students have about the dangers of gateway drugs,” said Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge’s Know the Truth prevention education manager Sadie Holland. “It’s not a ‘don’t do drugs’ message, but it is showing kids the direct effects of doing drugs from people who have experienced it. That peer-to-peer format and reliability really helps the presenters connect with the students, and it allows the students to open up about experiences they may have had.”
Both Andrus and Pitaro sought help at Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge, which is a rehab and recovery program that assists individuals with their addictions by addressing their physical, emotional and spiritual needs. The program has both longterm and short-term programs across the Twin Cities.
Pitaro first encountered drugs in middle school when he started using tobacco products and marijuana. He went on to use prescription drugs, heroin and methamphetamine.
Before seeking help, Pitaro had overdosed three times and nearly died. He went to rehab multiple times and eventually sought help at Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge. After he graduated from the program he was asked to be a speaker for the Know the Truth campaign.
“It’s so important to be talking to kids now,” Pitaro said. “I started using drugs at the exact same age the kids are now, and when I was introduced to drugs I never thought about it because I never learned about the dangers. Now they get to hear our stories, and hopefully it impresses on them that it can happen to them.”
Andrus was also asked to be a Know the Truth speaker after graduating from the Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge program.
Andrus said she grew up in a small town and was surrounded by a lot of people with addictions. In middle school she started using what she called a gateway drug, and by high school she was using methamphetamine and later alcohol and heroin. After seeking help multiple times she has been sober for the last couple years.
“I’m hoping by telling kids about the things I did wrong they will choose to do something different,” Andrus said. “Seeing the differences this program makes for kids makes this mission all worth it.”
Andrus and Pitaro taught the Westwood Intermediate and Middle School students about the dangers of alcohol, tobacco/e-cigarettes and marijuana, which they said can serve as gateway drugs.
Next Andrus asked the students to raise their hand if they knew someone who had used a gateway drug or if they themselves had used one. For tobacco and e-cigarette products nearly all the students shot up their hands; only a handful raised their hands for alcohol and marijuana.
“I know a lot of people who have been using many of these substances, and they provided a lot of great suggestions and assistance for people who are using,” eighth-grader Hailey Bradley said regarding the Know the Truth Presentation. “But I also liked how they provided suggestions on how people can help their friends as well.”
On March 6 the students participated in group discussions, heard more stories on addiction and took a survey.
“Having the kids hear from the Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge presenters really helps kids better learn the dangers of drugs through the presenters’ first-hand experiences, and it really teaches kids that there are alternatives,” health teacher Brett Repasky said. “It’s so vital to have these students hear this now because middle school is that time when kids start getting introduced to gateway drugs like tobacco, alcohol or other substances, and hopefully this helps students down the road to say no or seek help if they’ve already been introduced and get on the right track.”
If you or someone needs help, contact the National Drug Helpline at 1-888-633-3230.