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City policeman explains the dangers of drugs
date: 17-March-2005
editorial comment editorial comment
Now, if someone could ward the kids about the dangers presented by the law enforcement crew....

Neither priests nor teachers are more important to children than their parents, Connellsville Police Sgt. Mike Parlak told members of the Conn-Area Catholic School Parent-Teachers' Group during his presentation Tuesday on drug abuse and prevention.
Parlak said he was speaking to the group not as a police officer, but as a father. His son, Michael, attends Conn-Area.

In his more than 20 years as a police officer, Parlak said most of the crime he has encountered can be traced to drugs. "It is the source of all evil," he said.

Parlak stressed that parents need to become involved in their children's lives to help them make wise choices about drug use. "It's natural for kids to experiment; they're curious," he said, but parents can intervene before experimentation becomes frequent use or abuse.

"Don't wait until high school," Parlak warned. He said children as young as 10 or 12 are exposed to strong peer pressure to use drugs or alcohol.

"Start young. Don't be afraid to ask what your kids are doing, who they are with. You've got to be the bad guy," Parlak said, adding parents need not exaggerate the effects of drugs, merely stick to the facts.

In addition to being illegal, he said drugs are the leading cause of death in car crashes and in suicides: "People die, end up in the hospital or in jail."

He emphasized that the most important factor in keeping kids drug-free is communication.

"Don't lecture. Respect your kids' opinions. Listen to your kids. Teach them how to say no," Parlak said, adding such talks should not be a "one-time thing. Keep them aware that it's a health problem, illegal, and can be life and death. Make sure they understand what you'll do if they use drugs. Choose a punishment and stick with it."

He added that children's parties should always have responsible adult chaperones and children should be held to reasonable curfews.

Parlak listed some of the most popular drugs used in the Connellsville area, including OxyContin, which is so expensive that users almost always move on to heroin. He said that more than one-third of all Americans admit to having tried marijuana. Other drugs to look out for include party drugs like ecstasy, abused prescriptions like Valium and Xanax, cocaine, crack cocaine and methamphetamines.

He said children who use drugs frequently experience long-term changes in mood or behavior, school performance and relationships. Direct signs of abuse include slurred speech, changes in hygiene or appearance, bloodshot eyes, sudden weight loss, lack of energy and a constant cough.

"Be suspicious," he warned.

Should parents suspect drug use, Parlak said, help is available: Family doctors can make referrals; the Fayette County Drug and Alcohol Commission has a Connellsville office (724-628-9010); many substance abuse counselors practice in the area; and those whose children have faced similar problems can offer support to parents.

Should a child abuse drugs, Parlak said, "Don't blame yourself. It's seeking our children out. Don't hide from it. If there is a problem, seek some help."

Conn-Area Catholic School and the other five parochial schools in Fayette County will soon have a new source of help not only for drug abuse, but for any problems that affect children.

Long available to parochial high schools in the Diocese of Greensburg and public schools in Westmoreland County, the St. Vincent College Prevention Projects has expanded into the lower grades, with a grant from the Diocese of Greensburg.

Called the Elementary Student Assistant Program, children, parents, teachers and others can make a referral for any problem, whatever it is. A core team, consisting of St. Vincent prevention specialist Lisa Rizza, trained teachers and administrators, will research the problem and contact the parents. With parental permission, a plan will be developed to tackle the problem, whatever it is.

"Service topics include peer pressure, grieving the loss of a family member, depression, bullying and others," said Rizza. Help could take the form of individual counseling, work with an entire class or other professional services.

Judy Kroeger can be reached at jkroeger@tribweb.com or (724) 626-3538.

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