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Teen Turns Peer Pressure on Campus Against Drugs

February 12, 1987|BOB WILLIAMS | Times Staff Writer

The nation's drug problem is getting a lot of attention from the adults.

President Reagan has declared war against it. Law enforcement agencies, like the county Sheriff's Department, are out there touring the schools, warning students to lay off using and dealing. And the federal government plans to spend $700 million during the next three years on a massive drug education and prevention program.

But John T. Edmerson, a junior at Carson High School, thinks something is missing from the grand strategy. He thinks the young people themselves ought to be organizing and running their own anti-drug programs.

"It's peer pressure that's getting the kids in trouble in the first place," he said. "I feel that when we have a program where young people are talking to young people about the temptations and dangers of drugs, then we have a better chance of getting the message across."

So Edmerson persuaded the school administration to let him try the idea, and late last month he and other student leaders presented their "Mass Anti-Drug Assembly" to about 300 youths at the school.

Using the "Donahue" show format, Edmerson quizzed a 10-member panel, made up mostly of recovering drug or alcohol addicts, and then roamed the audience with a microphone to pick up questions.

The students appeared impressed by the personal testimonials of the panel members, warmly applauding them when they recounted how they finally overcame their addictions. Most panelists gave the credit to religious experiences and the support of long-suffering families and friends. Only one of them asked the media not to use her name.

Suicide Attempts

One student panelist, Edwina Harris, said drugs caused her sister to commit suicide and that she herself tried five times to take her own life. Steadfast support from Christ and her friends saved her, she said.

Beverly Samuels, one of four adults on the panels, said her social use of drugs led to a 16-year "nightmare . . . I lost everything, my family, my home, my career--everything."

But with the help of "a higher power," she said, and the patient support of her mother, Julia Coffey--another panel member--Samuels freed herself of drugs three years ago. She said she has become active in church and other groups seeking to help people still ensnared by chemical addictions.

Perhaps the most harrowing story was told by Eric Lopotosky, 20, a former Carson High student, his parents and younger brother, Nick. The father, John Lopotosky, said he finally overcame his problems with alcohol, only to find that Eric, at 16, was heavily into drugs and getting Nick to use them, too.

Expensive Treatments

The mother, Sherry Lopotosky, who said she became addicted to pain killers and tranquilizers, estimated that half a million dollars was spent, mostly by insurance companies, on psychiatric and hospital care for Eric.

But nothing really worked, she said, until the parents and sons agreed to seek religious guidance together. "Now, for the first time, we're a family," she said, and all are doing fine.

Mrs. Lopotosky said her family decided to go public with their past problems in hopes that their testimonials would help others.

Michele Brown was among students in the audience who said she got the message. "I thought it was going to be boring, but it was really great," she said.

Attentive During Program

Patrick Moretta, the school's dean of students, said he and other faculty members were impressed by how well-behaved and attentive the students were during the program.

"I was really apprehensive about how it would all turn out," he said, noting that Edmerson's project was a first for the school. "But John may have opened the door to a new approach."

He said there are "definite possibilities" for repeat performances by Edmerson and his group.

That, said the 16-year-old Edmerson, is just what he is hoping for. "If we can get something going here," he said, "then maybe other schools will pick it up." He said he hoped one day to emcee a TV version of his Carson High project.

Edmerson, the son of a Carson minister, said he has no personal experience with drugs. But, he said, from what he sees around him every day, the problem is "out of control."

He said an episode at the Carson Mall recently struck him as an allegory of the Age of Drugs. A man was sitting outside a mall entrance, slumped over in what appeared to be a drug-induced stupor. Suddenly, he sprang to his feet and charged straight into a concrete wall.

'Lay There Vibrating'

"He fell back on the ground and just lay there vibrating," Edmerson said. "People walking by hardly seemed to notice, as if his behavior was normal and expected."

"People have got to realize how bad it is," he said. "The police have got to crack down. The judicial system must get its act together. The law, the churches, the schools, the community must get together to fight this thing."

But when it comes to communicating with a group of youngsters, he said, staking out his own role in the crusade, "you've got to be one of them to get the message across."

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