CHARLESTON, W.Va. — In the midst of an epidemic, many of West Virginia’s students find themselves understanding the opioid crisis better than their counterparts and those older elsewhere.
“We see it as teachers and as educators, but these kids see it every day at home,” said Angie Butcher, the adult adviser for Logan County Middle School’s SADD chapter, standing for Students Against Destructive Decisions.
On Tuesday, Butcher was alongside Melissa Doss, a counselor at Logan Middle School, and about 50 Logan Middle students in a crowd of more than 7,000 at the Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center for the West Virginia Youth Summit on Opioid Awareness.
Students were bussed into Downtown Charleston from schools in Kanawha County and surrounding counties.
Doss said she wanted her students to leave with “a lot of information about positive things that can happen versus drugs and alcohol abuse which is rampant in our area.”
Behind the event promoting healthy choices and drug-free lifestyles aimed at preventing addiction were the Mark Wahlberg Youth Foundation and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration as part of its DEA 360 Strategy.
“Our goal is to, not only entertain the kids, but educate them and, hopefully, give them enough information to go back and be leaders of change within their schools and their communities,” said Kevin McWilliams, public information officer for the DEA’s Louisville Field Division.
Scheduled presenters included Governor Jim Justice; James Wahlberg, executive director of The Mark Wahlberg Youth Foundation; Chris Evans, DEA special agent in charge and Chris Massey, a former Marshall University and NFL football player.
“We’re finding that, not only are kids experimenting at younger ages, but this particular community has been so hard hit by this epidemic that a lot of these kids have first-hand knowledge of loss,” said McWilliams.
“We just want to give them as much information as we can so that they know there’s light at the end of the tunnel.”
During what was partly a concert and partly an educational forum, students also heard from several performers: Jessie Chris, Kelsie May and Antoine Cabarrus.
Mark and Jim Wahlberg, lifelong members and advocates of the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, created The Mark Wahlberg Foundation, named for the actor, to raise and distribute funds to youth service and enrichment programs.
Already this fall, opioid education summits have been held in Salt Lake City, Utah and Louisville, Kentucky.
For the students on hand Tuesday in Charleston, “I want them to see that there is a future for them — that they can be a positive in a negative situation, that they can go back and impact our school, their home, their families and our community,” Butcher said.
“I hope they leave here with hope that there is a future past what they see at home.”