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GLHS Holds Drug Awareness Forum

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Grass Lake High School students are helping to wage the war against illegal narcotics in Grass Lake and county wide.  Last Wednesday the school held a day-long forum aimed at educating students about the potential dangers of abusing alcohol, drugs, and other risky situations.

The program titled, “Most Teens Don’t” was aimed at presenting facts regarding dugs, specifically opioids, lethal drugs that are inexpensive but exacts a heavy toll.  The summit included presentations from local and county law enforcement officers who offered frank discussions about the lethal drugs that have been seeping into Grass Lake over the years.

Wednesday’s keynote speaker Mike Hirst founded “Andy’s Angels” to raise awareness after his son overdosed at age 24 seven years ago. “Seven years ago he (Andy) OD’d,” Hirst said during a break between his presentations.  “Some teachers might remember him.  Staying clean means removing yourself from temptation.  Call out friends who are using, so that you don’t have to go to a funeral.”

Wednesday was the anniversary of Andy Hirst’s death.

The mission of Andy’s Angels is to provide assistance to those who struggle with addition.

Hirst, an electrician by trade and the father of four daughters, is also a founding member of the Grass Lake Wellness Coalition.  Andy’s Angels was founded as a non-profit foundation to educate communities on opiate abuse and to provide support for families and for those who suffer from addiction.

For his work, which has evolved with Jackson County’s reported increase of drug overdoses, the Citizen Patriot named Hirst the 2016 Citizen of the Year.

The issue of dangerous narcotics continues to be a thorn in the side of the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office.  In a telephone interview Sheriff Steven Rand said he had hoped to attend the Grass Lake event but couldn’t make it.  “I do attend most of the events with Mike Hirst,” Rand said. “Mike is probably doing the most valuable contribution he can make these days.  His bringing an awareness is the most critical component.”

The “Most Teen’s Don’t” forum also featured talks from local drug-enforcement officials.  The goal of the conference was to increase student awareness of the pitfalls and steer students from high-risk situations and help them to seek healthy alternatives, such as education, athletics, and conversations with teaches, families, advisors, and peers.  “It’s an extra set of hands and support,” said Sarah Pennewill, who helped students put on the event.  “The event was student facilitated to bring more awareness.”

Student Jordan Saherthwaite, who plays baseball and runs cross-country, said that five students including himself attended a drug summit at Jackson College last summer.  “It helped us to prepare for this conference,” he said.

Following Hirst’s talk, students participated in breakout sessions to discuss what they learned from Hirst’s speech.  Detective Michael Villarreal from Blackman-Leoni Township paired up with Officer Tim Black of the Jackson County Prison Office.  They held their talks in an algebra classroom while other sessions were being held.  “Drug awareness about heroin looms large in Jackson,” Villarreal said. “ It’s an epidemic, national and local.  It’s a bit of everything.”

Black put it more emphatically.  “Read the obits,” he said.  “It starts simply, grandma’s Vicodin.  Then you move onto to heroin, just want a better high.  Heroin can go for five dollars on the streets.  It’s simple economics.  (Dealers) want you to get hooked so that you become a regular customer.  These dealers aren’t stupid; their IQs are off the charts.

“If you think that dope isn’t coming to Grass Lake, you’re wrong,” Black added.

Sophomore Johanna Nichols, a member of the GLHS soccer team, sat in on the officer’s talk.  “It’s been very informative today,” she said.  “The statistics are amazing but really shocking.”

According to Villarreal and Black, there have been six overdoses in Jackson County this month.  “That doesn’t include those that aren’t reported,” Black said.

Rand acknowledged that curtailing the drug problem has proven to be a formidable task.   

“The junkie on the street?” Rand asked rhetorically.  “That’s not what we’re seeing anymore.  People like you and I start on prescription medication then go for the street drugs.”  He cited forbidding statistics.  “From our dispatch center last Tuesday county-wide we had 111 responses for overdoses this year, about where we were last year.  Unfortunately we’re being consistent.  It’s not going down, it’s not getting better.”

Rand lauded Hirst for the work he does to raise awareness to a vexing problem, so personal to Hirst after the death of his son.  “I’m glad there are guys like Mike to carry the ball for each of us,” Rand said.

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