Know the Truth, an addiction prevention program by Minnesota Adult & Teen Challenge, began visiting Spring Lake Park High School health classes last school year.
Speakers returned Feb. 28 to share their powerful stories of addiction and recovery with five classes, simultaneously warning students about the dangers of gateway drugs.
Students were riveted as Brody Hamilton, 26, and Jacob Podvin, 36, shared their stories.
Hamilton was deeply affected by his parents’ divorce and felt isolated at school until he started drinking and smoking.
“I felt really accepted,” he told students.
When he tried methamphetamine for the first time, he said he “felt good,” and thought the drug was “everything I ever wanted.”
He continued using meth and started selling the drug, ending up in jail. When he was released in 2014, he decided he was done.
He became engaged to the girl of his dreams and secured a job.
But when the bills piled up, he started selling meth again.
“I couldn’t stop then after I started,” Hamilton said.
He went to jail and his fiancée left him.
He turned to Minnesota Adult & Teen Challenge for help and enrolled in the long-term recovery program.
He realized many of the people he thought were friends were behind bars, dead or didn’t care that he was trying to get his life on track.
Hamilton told an attentive classroom that he didn’t want to lie to them.
“I had a lot of fun (on drugs),” he said. “But the good does not outweigh the bad.”
Students asked many questions, including one about whether Hamilton thought it was a good idea to legalize drugs like marijuana.
His answer was a firm no.
“I had to get scared into not using anymore,” he said.
Marijuana is often considered a “gateway drug.” Others are alcohol, tobacco and prescription medications.
Alcohol and tobacco are legal at a certain age, and some states have legalized recreational marijuana.
But more people die each year because of alcohol than all other drugs combined, according to Kerry Anne Kelley with Minnesota Adult & Teen Challenge.
She also shared that 188,000 youth are admitted to the emergency room annually because of alcohol’s effects, and every 51 minutes, someone dies at the hand of a drunken driver.
Teen tobacco use has been declining in Minnesota, but this year, for the first time since 2000, a survey distributed by the Minnesota Department of Health shows nicotine and tobacco use is on the rise again, spurred by the growing popularity of e-cigarettes.
The survey showed a 50 percent increase in students’ use of e-cigs from 2014.
“E-cigarettes and similar devices threaten to reverse our success in preventing youth from using tobacco products,” Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said in a public statement.
Statewide, 26.5 percent of high school students reported using nicotine or tobacco, up nearly two percentage points from 2014.
A confidential survey administered by Know the Truth at Spring Lake Park High School last week showed that 28 percent of students have used nicotine or tobacco. Of those, 81 percent used vapes (e-cigarettes), 16 percent used cigarettes and 3 percent used chew.
Kelley explained that e-cigs are unregulated. They have been found to contain carcinogens, formaldehyde and traces of heavy metals, she said.
Marijuana may seem harmless in comparison, because it is said not to be addictive or bring with it the possibility of an overdose.
It may not be physically addictive, but it’s emotionally addictive, according to Kelley.
Young people may find themselves using marijuana when they feel down, which eventually leads to a reliance on the drug as a coping mechanism. Conversely, using marijuana with friends before seeing a 3-D movie or going to a theme park can lead one to believe it’s the key ingredient for a good time.
“Eventually you can’t even go have fun with your friends without smoking,” Kelley said.
Certain prescription drugs are legal when prescribed by a doctor, but can create similar highs to cocaine and meth.
Chasing that high, users often transition to street drugs that cost less.
Like Hamilton, Podvin, 36, also saw his parents get divorced at a young age. He turned to drinking and using drugs at age 8, moving to harder drugs by 12 and dropping out of school at 15.
“I didn’t really have supervision,” he said.
Living with his mother in Ramsey, Podvin began selling meth.
“I had to have it all the time,” he said.
Involved in 19 drug raids, Podvin became a familiar face to local law enforcement, and “over time, it was just always a struggle with the cops,” he said.
Podvin tried to rebuild his life, earning a degree in mechanics, but owing tens of thousands of dollars in child support with four children by five women, he turned to selling drugs again. When caught he was furloughed to Minnesota Adult & Teen Challenge.
He dreaded going, but has found his time in the program to be insightful, he said.
“It’s not just about getting sober,” Podvin said. “It’s about learning who you are.”
He urged students to stay in school and get an education.
Junior Halley Capocasa enjoyed the presentation and learned a lot, she said.
“It was new information,” Capocasa said. “Our teacher hadn’t talked about the gateway drugs.”
After the presentation, one SLPHS student approached the program about getting her mother, a meth addict, into long-term treatment, inspired by the stories of change she heard, according to Tracee Anderson, community engagement manager with Minnesota Adult & Teen Challenge.