A powerful message was brought to the students of Magnolia last week by Project Future: The Right Prescription for West Virginia." This program is organized by the office of US Attorney William Ihlenfeld II of the Northern District of West Virginia.
Project Future does not just give students the usual, albeit straightforward, message of "Don't do drugs." Instead, the approach of Project Future is different. It gives a face and a story to the drug problem. On Thursday the students of Magnolia were given an especially emotional anti-drug presentation by Phil Bauer, the parent of a drug victim.
"My biggest hope for you," said Bauer to the students, "is that there will be no empty chairs at your graduation." Bauer showed a photo from his son's graduation-an empty chair representing that one student who died just one week before graduation. The surprising unfortunate twist to the story was what Bauer shared later on in his presentation: this was the chair meant for his son, Mark.
Pictured from left are Magnolia High School Assistant Principal Robb Bauer; Larry Lemon from Senator Jay Rockefeller’s office; MHS Principal Kathi Schmalz; and Phil Bauer, speaker at the Sept. 25 anti-drug abuse presentation. (Photo from the US Attorney’s Office, Northern District of WV)
Bauer described his son growing up, stating that after Mark, his youngest child, was born, his family "was complete." Bauer described his son as stronger and more athletic than his older brother, explaining that Mark began lifting weights at the age of 11. Emotionally, Bauer said his son was quiet and introverted; Bauer never knew what he was thinking. Basically, on the surface, Mark sounded just like any other normal teenager.
Bauer described Mark's last days as normal ones. Bauer said his son even had plans of attending Shenandoah National Park to hike and camp after graduation. The day prior to his death he had attended a student/staff basketball game at his school and then went to work. However, the next morning, Mark did not wake up. Bauer said his son had always been difficult to wake up, but this time, "it was different."
Mark died on May, 27, 2004, at the age of 18, from a prescription drug overdose. Acetaminophen, oxycodone, morphine, and amphetamine were found in his system. A clear, plastic bag of loose pills was found beside him. Bauer recalled that there were 117 pills left in the bag-seven different kinds.
The public has a place to dispose of their unwanted, unused medications, no questions asked in a permanent Rx Drug Dropbox that is now located in the New Martinsville Police Department. It is available to the public 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and is under 24-hour video surveillance.
Prior to the story of his own son, Bauer told other stories of teenagers overdosing on drugs, including one male, Aaron, who survived an overdose but now, at the age of 30, has organ damage and depends on his parents to bathe him and shave him. Aaron suffered from two strokes, seizures, pneumonia, and is paralyzed and unable to speak. Arguably, Bauer's story of the loss of Mark, his own son, is perhaps what resonated with students the most.
Bauer described himself as being bitter when Mark died. "I was bitter at everyone," he said. "I'm begging it of you. Please don't say, 'It's my body; I'm not hurting anyone. I'll do what I want.' Whatever path you go down, you take those with you who love you."
After Bauer's presentation, a variety of questions were asked to both Bauer and Ihlenfeld by students who were wanting to know more about prescription drug abuse and what they could do to help those they know who are abusing prescriptions pills. Well-said and noteworthy is what Bauer had told those in attendance earlier in his presentation, "If you take medicine for non-medicinal purposes, you are doing drugs."
"We are grateful to the Wetzel County Board of Education and Magnolia High School for inviting us to speak to the student body today," said U.S. Attorney William Ihlenfeld II. "The message we provided about the dangers of drugs was very powerful and hopefully will resonate with the students."
"It was very touching," confirmed student Brantley Hissom. "Mr. Bauer was very sincere and cared what he was talking about. I felt it relates to a lot of kids our age."
"It was good that the issues were addressed because of the problems kids around here face," said student Harley Price.
Principal Kathi Schmalz stressed the importance of educating students about the effects of drugs, as well as the dangers of the use of new synthetic drugs. "We have provided two evening sessions for parents to learn about the synthetic drugs and other drugs," Schmalz said. "The other schools in the county are providing programs for students and parents as well. We feel that by educating our students about the harmful effects of these drugs, they will think before trying them."
Schmalz also expressed pride in MHS's Drug Free Clubs of America program. "We have the largest percentage of students anywhere belonging to Drug Free Clubs of America!" Schmalz said, noting that over 100 Magnolia students carry a drug free card.
"The Wetzel County Board of Education and Superintendent (Diane) Watt are also very supportive of our efforts to provide awareness programs to our students," said Schmalz. "We have a 'Parents Lounge' on our website, providing information and trainings for parents.
"We want our students to be safe and to make good choices. We feel that getting parents involved is so important because we can all work together to keep our students safe."
"I like what the school is doing with the drug programs," offered student Hannah Benson. "It's important for the students and community."
Thursday's program was one part of the Red Ribbon Week activities.
Brandi Murray, coordinator of the Wetzel County Substance Abuse Prevention Program also shared her thoughts on the presentation. "Project Future was an incredible presentation that put a face to the ongoing war on prescription medicine abuse," she said. "As adults, we can talk to our children everyday about this epidemic and when a presentation like this is offered, it really brings it to reality for these students. You know that you have made an impression when you can hear a pin drop in an auditorium full of teenagers. Mr. Bauer did a fantastic job at sharing his heartfelt story to our students about the life and death of his son."
Other activities included creating a "Plant the Promise" Awareness Garden at Bruce Park. This was made possible through a root beer float fund raiser held at the Magnolia/Tyler Consolidated football game. The tulips are a symbol of citizens' intolerance of drugs in the community and the ongoing prevention education. They will bloom sometime in April, which is Alcohol Awareness Month.
Murray presented a program at the Wetzel County Center for Children and Families for the preschool children on Drug Awareness and Healthy Choices. She spoke on what forms medicine can be in and from who children should and should not take medicine.
The WCCADA also introduced to the community the permanent Rx Drug Dropbox that is now located in the New Martinsville Police Department.
The public has a place to dispose of their unwanted, unused medications, no questions asked. It is available to the public 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and is under 24-hour video surveillance.
The Red Ribbon Campaign is now the oldest and largest drug prevention program in the nation reaching millions of young people. It is a way for people and communities to unite and take a stand against drugs.