Good intentions — a legal prescription — started Patrick Simmons down the hellish seven-year road of addiction.
“I was buying the pills from the street and fell in love with it,” he said. “It started to become more and more expensive and the heroin was cheaper. I was quick to become an intravenous user, shooting up from the get-go.”
The 26-year-old Vermilion man told his harrowing story March 23 at South Amherst Middle School, where the “Raising the 21st Century Child” featured experts in addiction, human trafficking, Internet crime, bullying, dealing with anxiety, and other issues facing today’s students.
Simmons has been sober since 2015, after being convicted of felony theft and burglary in Lorain and serving sentences in rehabilitation centers. He now works full-time and two months ago became a new father.
“I’ve accomplished more since getting clean than I had in my whole life before,” he said. “I enjoy going to work. I have my own vehicle and I have my daughter. I’ve become a productive member of society instead of waking up dope sick and trying to get high.”
His message for students: “Life is beautiful. Learn how to enjoy it sober. There’s too many parts of it you miss out on just to get some temporary high.”
Firelands educators, building on the momentum of last year’s “Hidden in Plain Sight” anti-drug event, wanted to address a list of ills it sees affecting today’s students. When guidance counselors started listing issues they see and deal with frequently, it birthed “Raising the 21st Century Child,” which was open to all Lorain County adults.
Superintendent Mike Von Gunten called the forum “the next evolution” in communicating with parents about everything from drug abuse to college planning.
Groups providing expert insights included The LCADA Way, the Human Trafficking Collaborative of Lorain County, 4-H, Genesis House, the Lorain County Sheriff’s Office, as well as local Boy Scout and Girl Scout chapters.
ADDICTION AND BEHAVIOR
Parents need to be able to watch children for the tell-tale signs of a high and know how they differ from symptoms of normal fatigue, said Darrell Shumpert and Graciela Torres of The LCADA Way.
“They’ll come home ready to pass out or maybe they’re just wired at odd times of the day,” said Shumpert. “You’ll ask them what they did at school to be so energetic and they’ll tell you they just feel great. If that happens once, maybe it’s nothing. If it happens again, that’s a warning sign. That’s when it’s time to be a parent. Walk in their room, move stuff, and look around.”
If you’re wondering when is the time for an open and honest discussion with your kids about drugs, it’s now.
“Eighth grade is too late,” said SAMS teacher Ellen Gundersen. “It’s hard to give them a speech by that time because they’ve taken in so much info on their own.”
“Little kids are experiencing this opioid epidemic through older loved ones who are addicted,” said fellow teacher Tom Myers.
A 12-year-old shocked Shumpert last year with her knowledge of marijuana.
“She taught my lesson,” he said. “She went through different colors, different smells, different highs, all of it. I just stopped and she went on and on. The kids laughed at first, but as she went on, they got scared. Then she told us about her uncle and dad putting it all in little bags in front of her.
“I stood under my dad as he smoked a Newport,” Shumpert remembered. “I’d try to take in some of that first puff. He didn’t know it was affecting me. When I got old enough to try one, I did, because I wanted to be like him.”
Torres said state legislators are working on a bill that would require all Ohio students kindergarten through high school to participate in heroin education.
“We do many workshops with students where they discuss family members who are addicted,” she said “We talk about how it happens and how it affects the brain. I go from there to decision-making. We talk about peer pressure, stress, and anger. It eventually leads into the opiates, heroin, and abuse.”
The modern-day slave trade is happening here, now.
The Buckeye State ranks among the worst in the nation for the buying and selling of people.
Kristie Miller of the Human Trafficking Collaborative of Lorain County told parents that human smuggling is a conscious decision to travel illegally, while trafficking means being forced into travel and servitude.
“Most people who are smuggled end up being trafficked,” said Miller. “They get where they’re supposed to go, then someone in charge says they want another $3,000 and forces the person being smuggled to work it off. Now they’re in debt to them. We thought we abolished slavery with the 13th Amendment, but we absolutely did not.”
About 21 million people worldwide are being trafficked right now, which Miller said has grown into a $150 billion per year industry.
“That revenue is second only to drug trafficking,” she said. “But if I sell you drugs, what happens to them? They’re consumed. If I have a person, I can sell them over and over and over again. There’s low risk and it’s high profit.”
Unlike drug trafficking, no mandatory minimum sentence exists for the buying and selling of people.
“Most girls I’ve worked with charge $100 to $200 an hour,” Miller said. “They have to make a quota that’s around $8,000 a night. All the money goes to the pimp. Once two or three other girls get under his control, that’s serious bank.”
Ohio’s geographic location and highway infrastructure makes it an ideal place for traffickers, she added.
“This is a transportation state,” she said. “You can get out of Ohio in about two and a half hours no matter where you’re at. It lends itself well to human trafficking. It’s going on at hotels all over the state and county.”
Lauren Budweg of Oberlin said she often has to remind her young daughter how dangerous traveling at night can be.
“She thinks nothing of going to Wal-Mart at 11 o’clock at night,” she said. “There’s always people out there who have no interest but to harm and to make money off of it.”
Social media apps such as Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat can be fun.
But as Det. Dave Lottman of the Lorain County Sheriff’s Office illustrated, they can quickly turn into something nefarious for young users.
“I spoke to a parent who sent me 30 different screenshots of a man begging their child to send them inappropriate pictures,” he said. “He was telling this child he loved them and that he wouldn’t show them to anyone. I gave the girl a lot of credit because she just kept saying no.”
He pointed to Kik Messenger as an especially troublesome app because it operates out of Canada. In order to investigate any potentially illegal communications, authorities must go through a county prosecutor followed by the U.S. Department of Justice, which then has to negotiate an investigation with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
“The police in Canada are who decide if we go after Kik for something,” said Lottman. “When people come to me and tell me their child got tracked on Kik, I tell them I’ll do my best, but it’s not like other companies.”
Kik Messenger and Ask.fm are apps frequently used for cyber-bullying.
“With Ask.fm, you can say anything about anyone at anytime,” he said. “Kids go on there and just slam each other. When I found out about it during my work, I asked my kids about it that night. They said it was on their phones and I had them take it off immediately.”
Kids’ efforts to hide their online activity from parents have become more sophisticated through the use of “calculator vaults,” which make any app appear to be a phone calculator.
“There’s no way to tell it apart from the regular calculator,” Lottman said. “When you open it up, it works just like a calculator. When you enter in a code, though, it opens the secret program. You’re not going to see the truth unless you know the code. Always look to see if there’s more than one calculator app on your child’s phone.”
Apps like Snapchat claim to delete pictures soon after they’re posted, but that doesn’t mean someone else can’t hack in to the service and steal the pictures for themselves, he said.
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.