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Drugstore Project Brings Message

Some 600 sixth and seventh graders assembled at the Cardozo Middle School campus on Friday got a realistic and shocking lesson on the dangers of drugs and the importance of making decisions to avoid them.

The Drugstore Project is aimed at showing younger children the consequences of drug use as graphically as the "Every 15 Minutes" program that warns high school students of the dangers of drunken driving.

Various Stanislaus County law enforcement departments set up tented stations with scenes showing the downward path of drug use and lead the children from sheriff's deputies arresting several "actors" for possession at the first tent to their arrival at juvenile hall and appearance at a probation hearing at subsequent stations.

Riverbank High students then presented a wild and noisy scene of a young person's party called "The Rave." A 14 -year-old participant mixing alcohol and drugs passed out, paramedics and police arrived and the victim was rushed to an emergency room. But the doctors could not save him and the last scene showed a pastor leading a service for the dead.

Joshua Felix with his mother, who spoke at his funeral, played the parts of the victim and his family and illustrated how the consequences of one young person's action extends far beyond themselves.

The students were invited to look into the open casket and found they were looking into a mirror, reflecting on what could happen to them if they made the wrong choice.

Riverbank Police Chief Bill Pooley wound up the experience in the debriefing tent by trying to elicit more questions or comments from the children.

"Was this pretty bad, scary?" he asked. "You know this is pretend. Suppose it was not pretend. We want to make you aware of proper choices, to make the right choices. You have a good support group, parents, teachers, school counselors, and pastors. Go to them. Talk to them."

The students were interested in a display of various drugs in the first tent and comments by a sheriff's deputy that marijuana has 400 different chemicals that can cause cancer, that a 13-year-old girl died from sniffing Scotch Guard used for waterproofing clothes and learned of the virtual mouth rot caused by the drug methamphetamine.

The students were surprised by the arrests of several of them, allegedly for stealing drug baggies from the display table, not sure if this was for real or not.

They appeared depressed by the conditions they would encounter in juvenile hall, dull colored and uniform clothes, no fancy hairstyles only ponytails for girls, blankets "kind of itchy but they do the job", a daily time schedule of up at 6 a.m., schoolwork until 2:30 p.m. and bedtime by 8:30 p.m.

The words of a real, orange-clad inmate, passing from juvenile hall to prison "and looking at 20 years" further depressed them. What did he miss most?

"My family. I could not hug them, give them a kiss," the prisoner said. "There was a glass window in between. I don't know if I'll ever get out of prison. They promise you'll go to prison, not that you will ever get out."

The emergency room doctor that failed to save the young Felix had further bad news. The drugs now prevalent at teen parties cause the heart to beat so fast, it can wear itself out and stop abruptly.

Students, by the end of the program, had gained some valuable information and the goal is for them to remember what they have learned and put it into practice should they be faced with a similar situation.