Students graduate from DARE program in Leetonia

Leetonia Police Sgt. John Hancock hands a T-shirt to fifth-grader Diane Capaldi as fifth grade teacher Lauran Woolley prepares to congratulate her with a fist bump during the D.A.R.E. graduation Wednesday at Leetonia schools. Hancock teaches the Drug Abuse Resistance Education course to the fifth grade students, stressing good decision-making and staying away from drugs and alcohol. Also pictured at left is Leetonia School Resource Officer Alan Shaffer and fifth grade teacher Cleone Smith. Police Chief Allen Haueter also attended, with Columbiana County Drug Task Force Director Brian McLaughlin the guest speaker. (Salem News photo by Mary Ann Greier)

LEETONIA–Make good decisions, don’t do drugs and be safe — that’s the message Sgt. John Hancock delivered to Leetonia fifth-graders over the past few months and during their D.A.R.E. graduation ceremony Wednesday.

As the longtime Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) instructor at the school, the Leetonia officer said the curriculum has changed three times since he started, but he likes the current setup because the students are more involved. Instead of just being lectured to, they’re presented with scenarios and they have to make a decision on what to do.

He’s told them “there are no wrong answers, it’s just how you would react.”

Marijuana is no longer part of the curriculum and vaping and methamphetamines aren’t included, either, but Hancock said he does talk about vaping to the students and they ask a lot of questions, including about meth, and he answers them.

“We talk about bullying, too,” he said.

Leetonia fifth graders who graduated from the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program on Wednesday wear their new D.A.R.E. T-shirts. Pictured with them from left is Columbiana County Drug Task Force Director Brian McLaughlin, D.A.R.E. Officer Sgt. John Hancock of the Leetonia Police Department, Leetonia School Resource Officer Alan Shaffer and Leetonia K-6 counselor Jenna Rydarowicz. (Salem News photo by Mary Ann Greier)

The program started in September and ended in November. Some of the topics included over-the-counter medications and prescription drugs, and they still talk about alcohol and tobacco, too.

Leetonia Acting Superintendent and High School Principal Troy Radinsky congratulated the students and urged them to remember everything they’ve been taught. He called the D.A.R.E. program “simply outstanding.”

“These are lessons that can last a lifetime,” Radinsky said.

Columbiana County Drug Task Force Director Brian McLaughlin served as guest speaker for the graduation and stressed the need for good choices, telling the students that what they decide to do today affects them tomorrow.

“Be careful with your choices — your choices matter,” he said.

He explained that the DTF deals with drugs every day and “what you have to understand with drugs, it’s a very slippery slope once you start.”

Drugs affect both body and mind and use of the harder drugs, like heroin, usually start with something else. He relayed how one addict told him he started at age 12 with marijuana, then at 14 he was doing cocaine and by 18 he was using heroin. A gram is about the size of a sugar packet. With a lot of people, they start out with pills, then go to heroin. He said every pill can be a problem if not taken the way it’s supposed to be taken.

According to McLaughlin, it’s been two years since his agents bought any heroin because of the drug fentanyl which is 40 times stronger than heroin. People think they’re buying heroin when it’s actually fentanyl. Heroin is about eight times stronger than morphine and carfentanil is about 4,000 times stronger than heroin. In 2014, he said overdose deaths spiked and that’s when fentanyl showed up in the county. An amount of fentanyl equal to five grains of salt is enough to kill somebody without an opiate tolerance.

Hancock said the best decision is not to start.

Each student received a D.A.R.E. T-shirt and got treated to a donut bar where they could pick their own toppings. Fifth grade teachers Cleone Smith and Lauran Woolley assisted with the ceremony, which was also attended by Leetonia Police Chief Allen Haueter and Leetonia School Resource Officer Alan Shaffer. Leetonia K-6 counselor Jenna Rydarowicz also helped set up a group photo of the students wearing their shirts.


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