Roseville High School teens take different approach to anti-drug message

Students ‘talk real’ about experiences with substance abuse
By: Sena Christian, Staff Reporter
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Madie Whalen, a sophomore at Roseville High School, spoke softly as her peers sat transfixed in silence inside the campus gymnasium on an October morning.

Her voice shook slightly as she told the large group of freshmen about growing up with a father who suffered from drug and alcohol addiction. Her parents fought, her mom worked two jobs and she feared for her father’s safety every time he got behind the wheel. She reflected on her father as a young man partying with his friends.

“I don’t think he thought, ‘Someday when I have a daughter, I’m going to really mess her up,’” she said.

Her dad is now several years sober, and Whalen has chosen to be drug free — an announcement she made to a round of applause during an anti-drug assembly hosted by the school’s Peer Helping class. Teacher Valerie Erb said despite hosting the event during red-ribbon week, this was not the typical just-say-no mantra issued from authority figures.

“Our approach is completely different,” Erb told the students. “You’ve been hearing this message your entire lifetime and I understand that.”

Instead, she assembled a panel of Peer Helpers to “talk real” and discuss their own experiences with substance abuse. Erb said their goal is to prevent others from going through the same struggles.

“I thought I deserved crap, so I gave myself a horrible life,” she told the group.

Erb began smoking weed at 12 years old, then went to meth and coke. She’d end up getting turned in for burglary, raped — which she didn’t report — and abused by others. She turned her life around in 10th grade.

During the assembly, nine students talked about the harsh reality of using drugs, including one young woman whose biological parents were addicts. She later turned to drugs, got caught, landed in rehab and is now four months sober.

A recent report by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse found that 75 percent of all U.S. high school students have used addictive substances such as alcohol, tobacco, marijuana and cocaine.

Senior Leandra Weinberg always thought she would stay drug-free, but then one day she took Adderall, a prescription pill used to control the symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

“I didn’t think it was a big deal because it was a prescription drug,” she said.

A California Healthy Kids Survey found that one in five 11th graders in Placer County abuse prescription pills, which is twice the national average.

At a high school football game, Weinberg was offered a pill she’d never taken before, which resulted in a severe allergic reaction and a visit to the emergency room. She has dealt with anxiety and depression as a result of that health scare.

“Doing that sophomore year has caused me a world of problems through junior and senior year,” she said.

Senior Kuran Saini told the group he’s been drug-free his whole life, and credits his parents for being good role models and teaching him and his brother to just say no.

“Saying ‘no’ you have to start at a young age and you’re freshmen so this is perfect,” Saini said. “It’s really not that hard to say ‘no.’ It’s just two letters.”