Parents and professionals discuss drugs at annual city event

Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station Captain Robert Lewis speaks to those gathered at the Parent Resource Symposium at the Activities Center on Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

About 50 parents, teens and community members had an open talk about drugs at the city’s 7th annual Parent Resource Symposium on Wednesday night.

Through an educational resource fair and panel discussion, attendees got a look at the impact drug use and abuse has, emphasizing prevention, issues and trends in Santa Clarita.

“Being ‘awesome town’ doesn’t mean pretending nothing is going on,” Mayor Cameron Smyth said. “We don’t want to sugarcoat this. We want it to be as real as possible.”

The symposium is part of the city’s Heroin Kills program, which won the Helen Putnam Public Safety Award this year.

All four panel members are parents and shared their expertise from their fields and from having children of their own.

To combat the city’s drug problem, it is critical for locals to take action and partner with law enforcement, according to Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Department’s Captain Robert Lewis.

“If we don’t become compassionate as a community, we will not make a difference in Santa Clarita,” Lewis said.

Foremost, Lewis said his duty is to defend the law, but he wants to help people who are using drugs get clean, which is primarily executed through the department’s juvenile intervention teams

“I’m trying to get them help instead of putting handcuffs on them,” he said.

Brenda Tumasone, a drug dependence and addiction counselor, shared the story of how drug addiction took her son’s life.

Because of depression and anxiety, Tumasone’s teenage son began using drugs, turning him from a 4.0 student athlete with a close bond to his family and friends to a distant and disinterested person.

“There were signs and symptoms that we minimized, glossed over and chalked up to him being the first child,” Tumasone said. “We found ways to justify all these sudden changes.”

Since her son was not overtly troublesome, Tumasone said she did not feel like she had a reason to ask him about his strange behavior.

“I wasn’t losing my mind, but he was losing his right before my eyes,” she said. “You’re a parent. You don’t need a reason to check in, you don’t need a reason to ask.”

Fear of judgement from friends and neighbors should not allow parents to sweep the problem under the rug, Tumasone said.

Doug Aston, 12, center, tries to walk a straight line while wearing impairment simulation goggles at the start of the Parent Resource Symposium at the Activities Center on Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

There are a variety of reasons a teen would use drugs, including anxiety, depression, stress, pain, competitiveness, experimentation or a desire to fit in, according to Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital’s Dr. Darrin Privett.

Drugs are especially dangerous to teens because the human brain is still developing until age 26, Privett said, making them chemically dependent on drugs more quickly.

“Drug abuse is a preventable behavior and addiction is a treatable disease,” Privett said.

Sandy Logan from the National Council on Alcoholism said her goal was to alleviate parents’ fear of having conversations about drugs with their kids.

“I want you to leave here feeling empowered,” Logan said.

Jim Miller, who worked for the Los Angeles Police Department for 25 years, brought his two teenage children to the symposium to solidify the lessons he has taught them about drugs.

“This is reaffirming everything I have told my kids growing up,” Miller said. “It’s not just me talking, it’s the community.”

Valencia High School teacher Donna Lee said she hoped to get equipped with resources she could share with her students.

“I want to be that person to throw them a lifejacket,” Lee said.

After losing her husband to a heroin overdose in April, Kristin Ghilardi said she attended the symposium to see what steps the city is taking to tackle drug use.

“I wanted to see how the community is presenting the problem,” Ghilardi said.

Instead of holding an event for just parents and teens, Ghilardi said she thinks it would be valuable to invite people struggling with addiction as well. With the information she gathered, she hoped to provide resources for her husband’s friends and others struggling with addiction.

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