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Medford students get straight talk on substance abuse

Posted by Alix Roy  March 24, 2010 10:04 AM

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Alix Roy

Acting Somerville Police Chief Michael Cabral explained the Social Host Law to a crowd of student athletes and coaches at a program targeting alcohol abuse at Somerville High School.

As he surveyed the crowd of nearly 400 high school students, many of them athletes, gathered at Somerville High School for a program on the dangers of substance abuse, Middlesex District Attorney Gerry Leone read the minds of his teenage audience.

“They see me up here and I'm 100 years old,” he said with a laugh, “But I used to be a student athlete.”

He may be 30 years out of high school, but the stories he tells – of friends lost through a combination of drinking and driving – remain relevant. That is what pains him the most.

"To me, in this tragedy, the saddest part is we still talk about it,” he said to the crowd.

In addition to preaching the dangers of drugs and alcohol, Leone asked students to learn from their mistakes and not compound bad decisions. Drinking is bad enough, but getting behind the wheel of a car while under the influence of alcohol has even great implications, he said.

In a touching example, Leone described a case his office prosecuted involving an Arlington High School senior who killed his best friend in a car crash after the two had drank and smoked marijuana. The accident occurred just two weeks before graduation.

“It just doesn't get much more tragic than that,” Leone said. “The saddest part was seeing the parents in court as the driver was sent to jail for killing his best friend.”

The moral is simple, he said.

“If you see a friend make a bad decision, stand up, be a leader, show some courage.”

Linda Donovan, a probation officer in Middlesex County, gave students a harsh look at what their lives would look if they decided to drink and drive.

Her stories were of teens forced to put off applying to nursing school, enlisting in the Marines, or attending college because of their probationary status.
“One bad decision can affect you for the next 10 years of your life,” she said.
Students in the audience said they were struck by Donovan's honest account of the consequences that can accompany substance abuse and drunk driving.

“I think it was really great,” said Somerville senior and tennis player Iva Popa. “It gives an idea of how authorities are very strict and severe.”

Her sister, Enxhi, agreed.

“I think we all know alcohol is bad but saying 'this is what will happen,' it helps make it real,” she said.

Medford lacrosse player Jack Forcier said the program hit home with him although not all students take it seriously.

“I think it definitely had an impact. Some kids think it's stupid but I would have come even if I wasn't a captain,” he said.

Medford athletic director Bob Maloney said he was impressed by Leone's professional delivery and enjoyed watching student athletes come together off the playing field. Students from Somerville, Medford, Malden, and Everett were invited to the event.
“So many times when we [come together] it's with competition, but this time it's about real life situations," he said.

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