MARIETTA, OH. (Marietta Times) – Be the change presenters end their day in county with a public forum.
Jodi Switalski stalked the floor of the Marietta High School auditorium, speaking in turns with passion, sadness, humor and not a little anger.
The cavernous room gaped with empty seats. About 50 parents and educators were there to listen as Switalski, a lawyer, former prosecutor and judge, and now a speaker committed to helping people save their children’s lives, spoke about “Be The Change,” a program she and her partner Bob Stutman devised to help communities counter an illegal drug threat that Stutman described as the worst in American history.
It’s a far cry from the “Just Say No” era and the DARE program.
Switalski told the group about what their kids had told her earlier in the day. She spent Monday in Warren Local School district and Tuesday in Marietta, holding sessions with students, faculty and administrators. As she had in Warren and does in every community she goes to, Switalski spoke to parents and students separately.
“I think today in the breakout session, when I met with your kids, 500 stayed after to ask amazing, edgy questions. And I’m delighted you’re here, but all day today I have said, you have a parent problem — and look around you,” she said, gesturing at the sparsely occupied auditorium. “We have a doctor, a sheriff, teachers, principals, but the biggest cog in the wheel is the parents.”
Switalski began a long inventory of the threats faced by children as drugs evolve.
“Your kids are savvy about e-cigarettes. They call Amazon and ordered them online,” she said. “They know tobacco is bad, but e-cigarettes, they think those are safe. The latest look like thumb drives, easy to hide.”
The drug crisis –and the highest overdose deaths rate are in southern Ohio and West Virginia, she noted — has been punched up by the proliferation of synthetic compounds, especially the opioid fentanyl, she said, which is now appearing in all sorts of forms and applications.
Fentanyl, more powerful than heroin by a factor of 30 to 50 and has been implicated in more than half the opioid overdose deaths in the country in 2017.
“I had an extensive conversation with your kids about pot,” she said. “It’s a big issue, billions of dollars in business. If I’m selling pot I’m going to give good service to your kids so I know they’ll come back. I lace it with fentanyl. It just takes a tiny bit, kids are naive about pot, there not even attributing that high to fentanyl,” she said. Fentanyl has the extra benefit for the drug seller of being profoundly addictive.
Fentanyl is also increasingly being found in cocaine. “They go together like pizza and coke,” she said.
Students at both Warren and Marietta told her they could get pills in either school in less than five minutes. But the schools, she said, are the first line in meeting the challenge.
“Support your law enforcement people, your teachers, your principals … these are two of the best principals (Ben Cunningham at Warren and Chad Rinard at Marietta High School) I’ve seen in a long, long, long time. These principals want reform,” she said. “You need a school resource officer (police or deputy) . What if we created a system where there were designated individuals in the school who were savvy, who knew the signs, who could triage .. wouldn’t you rather have your kids talk to someone instead of no one at all?”
Both Switalski and Stutman praised Washington County Sheriff Larry Mincks, who has been a vocal advocate for diversion and treatment programs rather than jail for drug offenders. He has frequently said, “We can’t arrest our way out of this.”
“Nobody has locked up as many dope peddlers as I have,” said Stutman, who at one time was head of the DEA’s New York division and in charge of 800 agents. “Locking people up doesn’t work.Your kids need somebody to talk to. Let’s stop kidding ourselves, read the science, and do what works.”
For more information on Be The Change, see the Stutman Switalski website, thestutmanswitalksigroup.com.