By Nicole Hennessy
Former DEA agent Robert Stutman can spot a heroin addict, cocaine addict or a drunk almost immediately.
However, concerned it’s not so easy to determine who might be abusing pills, he said, “I cannot pick out an opioid addict.”
For this reason he finds this new drug trend of abusing prescription pills much more troubling than trends in the past, such as crack or LSD.
Having spent all day at Bay High School, talking to students, faculty and community leaders about adolescent drug abuse Sept. 17, he stood in the school’s auditorium, ready to end the day with an address to the parents.
“You guys have some huge advantages in this community that I hope you don’t take for granted,” he began. “You actually have cops and school administrators that talk to each other, that like each other, that share information with each other. … You have a school superintendent and, certainly, the two principals who have no sense of defense on this issue at all.”
“Your kids are great,” he finally commented before moving on to some of the issues, which largely are students popping pills at what he sees as a historically high rate.
“We are in the middle of the absolute worst drug epidemic we have seen in the United States,” Stutman told the parents filling more than half of the auditorium’s available seats. “And I do not know who to arrest anymore. I do not know who the bad guys are anymore.”
He went on to explain himself for almost two hours, eventually taking questions, tense parents listening intently, burying their heads in their hands at some points, members of City Council, the police force and Mayor Debbie Sutherland listening, again, to what he had to say.
Stutman told them to forget about drug dealers because the culprit, now, is prescriptions readily available to students in their medicine chests at home. He said most of these prescriptions are overprescribed in terms of quantity, in America more so than any other country in the world, and unfortunately, most people don’t throw excess medications away, but save them in case of future ailments.
The statistics for yearly drug overdose on prescription drugs is now higher than the number of people who die in car accidents every year. And, Stutman said, when surveyed, 71 percent of students said they could obtain drugs within 15 minutes, never having to leave campus, characterizing their schools as “drug-infested.”
Making a comparison, Stutman assumed if asbestos were revealed to be present in more than half of Cleveland-area schools, “You guys would be saying, ‘Tear the walls down!’”
“Three thousand people a year have died from mesothelioma; 3,000 people have died a month from drug overdose,” he told the crowd. “Where’s the outrage? … Who’s talking about it? It’s like it’s not happening.”
Throughout his lecture, Stutman continued at this pace and intensity, cracking a joke every now and then, presenting information that’s been detailed by local news outlets and national studies for years, but is rarely realized to be a part of communities that consider themselves to be safe and relatively crime-free.
He told horror stories and got into what the situation is in colleges, for students already accustomed to drug use prior to arriving to universities, and encouraged parents and the community to work together to ensure everybody is as informed and connected as possible. Again, he commended Bay’s administrators, Principal Jason Martin, standing near the door after a long day, for being one of the more involved administrators he’d come across in his campus visits.
Still, multiple times throughout his lecture, Stutman reminded the crowd gathered that one of their kids, earlier in the day, remarked, “Our parents, in this town, are crazy naive.”
“‘Crazy naive,’” he repeated slowly. “‘They have no clue what we’re doing.’”
Reminding everyone in the room that the only thing that would be their fault, as the drug problem will never be completely eradicated in any community, is inactivity or turning away from the problem, he concluded what was a very long day for him and everyone at the school, headed to the next town in need of this information.