Students Gain Awareness About Drug And Alcohol Prevention

EDISON – If today’s students don’t think tragedy can hit home, they received a sobering message during a special assembly on Drug and Alcohol Prevention in the Upper School on Wednesday, April 27.

Linda Surks, a representative from the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence of Middlesex County, spoke to the high school students about the dangers of drug and alcohol addiction. Instead of lecturing the audience, she told a compelling story of how her own son, Jason Surks, died after an overdose of prescription drugs. Surks used the story to show how drugs and alcohol can hurt anyone.


“I think that she is an amazing woman in that she turned a tragic event in her own life into something to help others,” said Dina Congregane, the school counselor who organized the assembly and planned this presentation to take place in conjunction with Alcohol and Drug Awareness Month.

The presentation began with an introduction of Jason Surks, from birth through childhood and all the way to college, where he studied at Rutgers University to become a pharmacist. Surks used vivid descriptions and photo slides to show how Jason grew up in a happy home, like most children, and did the things normal kids do. He played many different sports, tried various instruments and had many interests. Jason was lively and loving and had a close relationship with his parents, sister and grandparents.

Jason thought he knew what he was doing taking prescription drugs. He was working at a pharmacy and had spent much time on the internet researching the drugs but did not know all the risks. He died Aug. 22.

“I thought the assembly was really great. It’s difficult to imagine that stuff like that could happen to us, but it can. Drugs and drinking are all around us and it’s scary to think that at any moment your life could end because of a stupid choice,” Mairead Forrest said.

Many teens and young adults are making these reckless decisions. According to the 2008 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, teens are abusing prescription drugs more than any illicit drug, except marijuana. From 2002 to 2008, there was an increase among young adults from 18-25 in the rate of current non-medical use of prescription pain relievers.

Surks’ presentation was followed by a performance from Acts of Prevention. The actors took the stage and delivered a skit that showed how drunk driving can lead to tragedy.

Congregane has seen Acts of Prevention perform at an annual Young Women’s Conference, where she takes a group of 6-12 female students each year. She expected the group to add a powerful message to the assembly.

“After the conference the girls have had been truly impacted by the Acts of Prevention performance and I thought it would be valuable to bring them to our school so the rest of our student body could benefit from their message,” Congregane said.

“I was particularly struck by the second presentation of the morning, by the Acts of Prevention group,” Aneesa Sonawalla said. “Even though they were only actors, they did an excellent job portraying the ripple effects of drunk driving accidents, which is a viewpoint that normally isn’t emphasized in these presentations. I think their performance was a very effective way to get their message across to us high school students, because of how easy they made it to connect emotionally with the characters of their story.”

“The skit gave us a different perspective,” Ashni Mehta added. “It actually helped us realize that our choices ultimately affect multiple people, and not just ourselves. While it was meant for the Drug and Alcohol Awareness assembly, it had applications outside of the assembly as well.”

Both Surks and the actors made the message come to life.

“This wasn’t the average anti-drug and alcohol assembly,” Alex Wang said. “Instead of the normal slide shows and warnings, the assembly’s speaker and actors tried to communicate the pain that drug abuse causes and tried to help us relate to the dangers of abuse instead of just warning us.”

“I thought that it was a new way to inform students about drinking and driving, not the boring old “Say No” lecture. It really involved people,” Michael Olano added.

This is the right time of year for teens to be reminded about consequences of their actions.

Congregane added: “It’s right before the prom and graduation season. I thought it was a great approach to address drugs and alcohol. Instead of ‘don’t do this, don’t do that,’ both presentations focused on the impact of a person’s decision on others. I hope that the message got out.”

SAY NO TO DRUGS AND ALCOHOL … The Wardlaw-Hartridge students watch a skit performed by Acts of Prevention that depicted the harmful and often tragic effects of drug and alcohol abuse. Photo by Rudy Brandl of Fanwood

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