By Maddy Vitale
Teens and parents gathered in the Ocean City High School library Tuesday night to listen to speakers talk about the risks of drinking and drugs and watch an emotional short film about teens reflecting on their friend’s death of an overdose.
The presentation, which was also in Upper Township at the Middle School on Monday night, was a joint event between the OCHS After Prom Committee and the Upper Township/Ocean City Municipal Alliance Committee.
Audience members viewed the short film, “If They Had Known,” by teens who reflected on what they wish they had known about the dangers of the party culture.
They also heard from panelists in the fields of law enforcement, substance abuse prevention and healthcare.
The experts spoke of the dangers of drinking and taking drugs and its effects on teens, hazards and trends.
Amy Holmes, co-chairwoman of the After Prom Committee, coordinated the event along with Larry Cole, coordinator of the Municipal Alliance Committee.
“There is no such thing as safe, underage drinking,” Holmes told the audience. “As parents, it is imperative that we teach our children that underage drinking is harmful, dangerous and illegal.”
She emphasized her point.
“We want tonight’s message to be clear: As an After Prom Committee, we truly believe there is no such thing as safe underage drinking,” Holmes said.
Students sat alongside their parents or guardians for the 90-minute presentation. OCHS Principal Matt Jamison noted as he looked out at the audience that although it was not a large crowd, “good things start small.”
He also thanked the parents in attendance and said the school community appreciates all that they do.
Speakers included Cape May County Prosecutor Jeffrey Sutherland, Dr. Jenny Lynn Cook, Dr. John Ruskey, Ryan Stamm an Ocean City EMS and firefighter, Temerity Berry, of Cape Assist, Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office Lt. Joe Landis, Municipal Alliance coordinator for Ocean City and Upper Township Larry Cole, Ocean City Police Officer Jen Elias and Martina Singleton of CARA (Coalition Against Rape and Abuse).
During the program the speakers introduced themselves and then the film was shown. Later was a question-and-answer with panelists.
The somber film, “If They Had Known,” played for an attentive audience. The attendees watched as a family and community were torn apart by tragedy, the death of a teenager. The teens in the film had let their friend, Clay Soper, go to sleep after he drank too much and took a prescription medication Xanax. He never woke up.
The teens reflected in the film that they just thought their friend was drunk. They knew he was acting very drunk and stumbling. They even knew he took medication. They still did not call 911 until it was too late, figuring he could sleep it off.
After the film, speakers discussed the warning signs and what could have been done differently.
Stamm, the Ocean City firefighter and EMS technician, told the audience that no matter what, “If you’re worried, call 911.”
Directing his remarks to the teens in the audience, he also said that they should never rely on GPS.
“Know the address,” Stamm noted of locations they may be going to with friends so that in case of an emergency, a parent could come to pick them up.
Stamm said everyone should know how to administer CPR or at least know how to administer rescue breaths. If not, and no matter what, call 911, he stressed to the audience.
Landis, who visits schools to talk about the dangers of drug and alcohol, said the most important thing to do is to educate your children and begin at a young age.
“You need to talk to your kids about this,” he said. “If you don’t, I know people on the street who will talk to them.”
He also said there are laws. “You can’t leave someone who is passed out,” Landis said.
The Good Samaritan law means a person must stay with someone who is in danger until 911 is called, Landis explained.
Prosecutor Sutherland warned of edibles, which are gummy bears, cakes and other foods laced with THC, the chemical compound in marijuana. They are becoming more and more common, he pointed out. Some are packaged to look exactly like the actual brand name foods and could go unnoticed by parents and teens.
Temerity Berry, of Cape Assist, summed up what she said should be goals of parents and teens. “Be there for your kids. Have a back-pocket excuse,” she said.
Berry said whenever a teen goes somewhere and feels uncomfortable, he or she should be able to call a parent and say their ready-made excuse to be able to leave a situation without fear of peer pressure concerns.
Larry Cole, the Municipal Alliance coordinator, said the night was geared toward bringing awareness to the issues and helping parents and teens work together to fight against drug and alcohol abuse.
“Amy (Holmes) showed me the If They Had Known video a couple of months ago,” Cole said. “I thought it was a great idea to show it. We need more people to see it. This (program) is specifically for kids and parents and their family members.”