Originally Published: December 16, 2018 11:57 p.m.
One night. One choice. One pill. One life.
This was the theme of the Armed to Know 911 program offered to 300 parents and teenagers on Monday night, Dec. 10, as an emergency response to fentanyl-laced drugs stealing young lives in this area.
The facts behind this crisis are cruel: Invisible, undetectable grains of this synthetic opioid in seemingly harmless prescription pills forced two Prescott Valley families to bury their beloved, college-aged sons.
Another had to sit by the bedside of a daughter hooked up to life support after a fentanyl overdose.
Still others have seen good kids make “bonehead” mistakes and end up on the wrong side of the law.
In the past couple months, Partners Against Narcotic Trafficking has made at least a dozen arrests and seized several hundreds of mimic prescription pills laced with fentanyl. Their anonymous tip lines are offering a steady supply of information that these detectives rely upon to help crack down on these “predators,” declared Lt. Nate Auvenshine, the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office commander of the multi-agency task force.
Armed to Know, a new-this-year nonprofit committed to offering four, scientific-based, professionally delivered programs a year able to “arm” parents and teens about issues impacting their lives, organized this community conversation to fight back against this latest drug crisis.
The hour-long program included talks from Police Chief Debora Black, Yavapai County Community Health Services Director Leslie Horton, Auvenshine, Yavapai County Juvenile Justice Superior Court Judge Anna Young and Prescott Unified Schools Superintendent Joe Howard.
The message was unified: Parents and teens need to “take the long way home” and talk about the reality of one night, one choice, one pill, one life.
“You, the students have the biggest voice of all,” Howard said, noting it is students who must become empowered to stop this scourge from killing their friends and traumatizing their families. “You need to know that just a little alcohol, or just a little weed will alter your judgment, and affect decisions, like stepping into a car, or accepting a pill that could kill you.”
The real power talk of the night came from a teenager.
One-time Prescott High School student Caleb Benjamin, 16, let it be known there is nothing “fun” about illegal drugs. A tiny pill that costs $13 to $17 can kill you, or if one survives can make you a criminal, all before you finish puberty.
Caleb’s reality includes where he must now call home — the Yavapai County Juvenile Detention Center where he awaits a second sentence on drug-related charges.
Caleb started his story with the night about a year ago when he drove a friend to a drug-fueled party in Phoenix. His friend ingested three Percocet pills suspected to be laced with fentanyl. On the trip back he lost consciousness — it took Caleb an hour to realize his friend was never going to wake up again.
“That’s scary,” he told the audience. “Do you want to go down that path?”
With no-holds-barred candor, Caleb was clear his choice to pursue a “party” life fraught with drugs turned from what he thought was harmless fun to living nightmare. He now lives in a place where he has limited freedom, must constantly be on guard against getting his “butt kicked,” and his future is a blur. His fate rests in the hands of the state’s criminal justice system.
By his choices, Caleb said he followed a dark path not unlike one paved by members of his own family, including his father. Not a life he recommends to anyone.
Mile High Middle School seventh-grader Kennedy Carr and Prescott High freshman Parker Jex both admired Caleb’s courage to speak painful truths so as to dissuade other teens from even experimenting with drugs. Both said they intend to heed, and spread, his message.
If a so-called friend asks a teen to take an unknown pill, Caleb said it’s time to make new friends; parents and teens need to beware of “Skittles” parties where prescription pills are put in a bowl to share.
“Is that worth your life, really?” Caleb queried.
Calling Caleb the “hero” of the evening, Howard said the time is now for students to take charge.
“Folks, we have the will and the tools to fight this to the point where we can truly say, ‘Not in our town,’ ” he said.
He commended the groundswell of civic leaders, everyday citizens, and students, including founders of Armed to Know, giving their all to combat this, and any other, threat to precious young lives.
“We can never stop this conversation, even if we stop fentanyl,” Howard said. “I promise you that there is another monster of a drug lurking in the shadows. It will always be out there. What we have to do is be, ‘Armed to Know.’
“We have lost some beautiful and amazing kids in this battle, and there have been others before. I promise you that they would want us to learn from this, and to know — in the words of Armed to Know — one night, one choice, one pill, one life.”
To report drug activity, particularly involving fentanyl use or a dealer, call the Yavapai Silent Witness program at 800-932-3232. And you don’t have to give your name.
Follow Nanci Hutson on Twitter @HutsonNanci. Reach her at 928-445-3333 ext. 2041.
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