Prescription Drug Task Force working to keep Mason safe

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by Henrik Blix
Mason Times staff writer

MASON—Prevention and education. Those are the methods Mason leaders are using to address prescription drug abuse.

Police Chief John Stressman said the police department’s job is more about prevention than enforcement.

“We’re trying to get ahead of the game,” Stressman said. “We’re proactive and aggressive about preventing problems before they get started.”

According to the police department’s annual report, drug offenses accounted for 16 of 221, just over 7 percent, of total arrests in 2012.

Mason’s police department is one of the first to participate in Ingham County’s year-round pharmaceutical take-back program, said Sandy Stacy, the department’s evidence manager. She said the program helps collect unused and expired prescriptions, which keeps them out of medicine cabinets and off the streets. Mason residents can deposit their unused prescription drugs in a marked container inside city hall.

Stressman said there was some proliferation of possession and use of those drugs by school-age youth, which led to the foundation of the Capital Area Prescription Drug Task Force in 2011.

Stressman said the task force involves the police department, the Mason Public Schools, the 55th District Court, Families Against Narcotics and several others.

The police department’s annual report said the task force recently became involved with Families Against Narcotics, a group in southeast Michigan that helps addicts and their families.

Phil Pavona joined F.A.N. after his son died of a heroin overdose. He said his son first became addicted to narcotics through prescription drugs.

Pavona said he joined the task force in Mason two months ago after he was contacted by Judge Donald Allen.

Pavona speaks at high schools where he tries to break the stigma about who can become addicted to drugs. He said he also works with addicts and their families to begin the process of recovering from narcotics addiction.

Pavona said that when he speaks to families he usually partners with a recovered addict. His partner can relate to the addict they are helping, while Pavona said he is able to relate to the families.

Pavona said that when he was struggling to help his son, his family felt alone. He said F.A.N. tries to help people realize they are not.

“There are all these people that are alone that really aren’t,” said Allen, a member of the task force and a supporter of F.A.N. “They’re all in the same boat, but because of shame and stigma and the like, they don’t know that each other exist.”

Allen said F.A.N. is important because kids burn through relationships with their family members trying to support their narcotics habit. F.A.N. tries to repair those relationships as part of the recovery process.

Pavona plans to start a F.A.N. chapter in Okemos that will include at least one member of the task force on the board. He said it is important to have a chapter in a suburb, because suburban kids may be less likely to seek help from an inner-city chapter.

The plan is to open the chapter by September or October and Pavona said it will help people as far west as Grand Ledge, as far south as Mason and Holt, as far north as DeWitt and as far east as Williamston.

Pavona said he plans to do a presentation for families and students of Mason High School. He said he has connected with Nicholas Toodzio, the assistant principal through the task force.

Toodzio said the task force’s mission is mainly awareness and education.

Toodzio said his role in the school system is to enforce the policies and rules, but also to share information and suggest treatment.

He said if students are found using prescription drugs there is an automatic 10-day suspension. The suspension can be reduced for students whose families are willing to meet with Child and Family services, a nonprofit agency in Lansing that deals with substance abuse.

It is difficult to determine in a brief encounter how much of a problem drugs are in their life, which is why the school refers them to experts, Toodzio said.

Toodzio said the task force is assisted by the Mason Public Schools through anonymous surveys of students. He said the surveys are given in 7th, 9th and 11th grade and ask questions about drug use and other behaviors. He said the survey helps the task force examine the prevalence of prescription drug abuse and identify at what age it begins.

Because prescription drug abuse often begins at a young age, members of the task force agree that educating parents as well as their children is critical to preventing addiction.

Allen said the task force is an effort to educate families about drug abuse. He said he regularly sees what drugs do to people and tries to make others aware because everyone wants to believe it can’t happen to them.

Allen said the task force wants to make sure people understand that most kids get prescription drugs from family members or friends.

“The products that they have in their medicine cabinet are the things that get kids started on the slippery slope that ends with them standing in front of me with some sort of heroin problem.”

Commonly abused prescription and over-the-counter drugs

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