Parents and faculty packed the North Salem High School auditorium Nov. 12 for a forum on a perennially-important issue: teen drug abuse.

The event, titled “Drugs in our Community,” brought together a host of experts to share their knowledge and answer questions.

The forum began with a parent speaker who delivered an emotional account of her daughter’s heroin problem, emphasizing the challenges that persist up to this day in dealing with a drug-addicted child. She also urged those who might be suffering from addiction to seek help.

Sign Up for E-News

“Please, if you have a drug problem, please come forward and get treatment,” she said. The parent speaker’s honest portrayal prompted a loud round of applause from a supportive audience.

Dr. George Bovino, assistant principal of North Salem High School, introduced a four-person panel consisting of William Hayes, the executive director of the Westchester Intelligence Center; P.O. Jack Brito, a police officer with the Westchester County Department of Public Safety; David Gerber, the administrative director of Counseling and Shelter Services at St. Christopher’s Inn-Graymoor and an adjunct faculty member in the Graduate Psychology Department at Pace University; and Dr. David Zuckerberg, the associate medical director of Emergency Services and director of Observation Services at the Northern Westchester Hospital.

Each panel member was given 10 minutes to speak.

Officer Brito started off the discussion by stressing that law enforcement is committed not just to “making arrests, but getting people help.” He then spoke about opiate use and listed several physical signs and symptoms to watch out for, including small pupils, droopy eyelids and visible puncture marks. He also pointed out the social symptoms of drug addiction that parents might observe in their children: avoiding contact, new friends and plummeting grades.

Next to speak was Mr. Hayes, who went more in-depth about what he does in the Intelligence Center to counteract drug use and drug trafficking. According to Hayes, the presence of drugs in Westchester County is in part due to nearby New Jersey being a major area for drug trafficking. He also discussed his role in gathering data on crime patterns. “With better info we can come up with better solutions,” Hayes said. He brought up the interesting statistic that overdoses occur most frequently within the 51-and-over age group — not in the teenage demographic, as some might assume.

Dr. Zuckerberg recounted his 10-year experience working in the trauma center of Westchester Medical Center, lamenting the many high school students that he has seen severely intoxicated by alcohol. He emphasized that alcohol, despite its popularity, can be just as dangerous as heroin and prescription pills, especially when behind the wheel. Zuckerberg acknowledged the depth of the problem of drug abuse and concluded saying, “I’m very lucky my family hasn’t been touched by [addiction], and I wish the same for yours.”

The last speaker on the panel was David Gerber, who shared a PowerPoint presentation. One slide asked the audience to consider what prescription pills may be lying around their medicine cabinet. Gerber noted that many young people who become addicted to drugs first come across these substances in this way. He also criticized the recent legalization of marijuana in states like Colorado for sending the wrong impression about the safety of the drug, pointing to significantly higher levels of THC (the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana) compared to the 1960s.

Gerber characterized addiction as a constriction of a student’s full potential.

“Their world starts to shrink,” he said of young drug users. Encouraging parents to take an active role, Gerber told the audience: “If we do nothing, things will stay the same and likely get worse.” He also drew attention to the way in which Westchester County legislators have slashed programs and cut taxes, subsequently making it harder for people to attend in-treatment detox. Gerber is helping to develop an affordable outpatient detox that offers similar care as typical in-treatment programs.

Gerber ended his presentation by asking parents to cultivate a positive and welcoming environment for their children. He believes that parents can prevent unhealthy behaviors by providing their children with a sense of belonging. Those who don’t get this feeling of belonging from home will seek it out elsewhere, according to Gerber.

“Kids who feel like they belong don’t use drugs.” He also reminded the audience of the many trained professionals available to help families through these challenging issues. “You don’t need to be a superhero, but it is good to know that you have superheroes around,” read one of his final PowerPoint slides.

The event ended with the panel taking questions from audience members on a number of topics, including hospital procedure, heroin and synthetic marijuana.