Sheriff James Pohlmann seemed delighted when he asked 5th-graders graduating the Sheriff’s Office Drug Abuse Resistance Education program at Prompt Succor Schppl what they had learned and one boy answered “to make good choices.’’
It was music to the sheriff’s ears because the importance of making good choices is what he emphasizes to students at each graduation of the D.A.R.E. program, taught by instructors from the Sheriff’s Office to every fifth-grader in the parish.
“It’s refreshing to hear they realize it comes down to making good choices in life,’’ Sheriff Pohlmann said after the ceremony. “That’s the answer you are hoping to get to that question.’’
D.A.R.E. is aimed at trying to keep youngsters from using drugs, including tobacco and alcohol, or taking part in violence or bullying others.
The sheriff, speaking this week at D.A.R.E. graduations and large turnouts of relatives at Prompt Succor and Gauthier Elementary, said kids can only lead productive lives if they make the right choices, including listening to their parents and teachers and deciding who they should and shouldn’t associate with.
About 90 children graduated the D.A.R.E. program at Gauthier and about 50 at Prompt Succor.
The sheriff praised parents for coming out and encouraged them to continue staying focused on their children, including talking often with them and looking for warning signs to help prevent drug use or be alerted to them actually using drugs.
If necessary, drug test kits are available at pharmacies to test young people, the sheriff told parents. If there is a problem it is important to rescue them before they become involved
in the criminal justice system and end up in prison, the sheriff said.
Educating children early on about the hazards of drug abuse is the best hope to reduce future use and a life tortured by drug addiction and criminal acts to support a drug habit, Sheriff Pohlmann said.
“How do you stop the crime problem,’’ the sheriff asked children and parents. “You’ve got to stop the drug problem,’’ he answered.
The sheriff said many people have family members affected by illegal drugs or alcohol abuse.
“Drugs destroy your life, your family and your community,’’ Sheriff Pohlmann said. The parish jail is filled with people who are there because of drug problems, either because they were arrested with drugs or the need for money to buy drugs led them to get caught stealing or burglarizing, the sheriff said.
“If you think drugs are a non-violent offense,’’ the sheriff said, “I can take you to cemeteries’’ where people who have died from using drugs are buried.
“Learn the warning signs of drug use,’’ in young people, Sheriff Pohlmann said to parents, including:
- Loss of interest in things they used to do such as sports, dance or reading.
- Hanging around with new groups of friends unknown to parents.
- Sudden attitude or mood swings.
- Sudden problems connected with school and academics.
Talk regularly with your children and be familiar with their friends, the sheriff said.
If parents see signs of possible problems, don’t be hesitant to ask what is happening. “It’s not something they will grow out of and it needs to be addressed,’’ the sheriff said.
Sheriff Pohlmann said while D.A.R.E. is a good program he would like to see it expanded to be a regular course in school for grades one through 12.
That would put money on the front end of the problem to get to kids through education, perhaps giving them a chance of avoiding becoming addicted and then either getting arrested for drugs or after committing crimes seeking money for drugs. That would be better than paying on the back end for incarcerating them, the sheriff said.
Also, the sheriff said, there is a crucial need for treatment programs for addiction – especially for young people – so that it isn’t available only to the rich or those with great insurance.
Also, the sheriff said he favors prison sentences for anyone who sells drugs.
Several hundred 5th-grade students graduate each semester from the D.A.R.E. program given by St. Bernard sheriff’s officers Lt. Lisa Jackson, commander of the program, and Sgt. Darrin Miller. The D.A.R.E. program, held in both public and private schools, was re-established in 2009, four years after Hurricane Katrina.