With prom and graduation season upon us, school and law enforcement officials — along with Whitman-Hanson WILL — presented the documentary “If They Had Known,” on the dangers of mixing prescription drugs with alcohol in a program at WHRHS on Thursday, March 27.
“Prom season, graduation season are the most stressful time for high school administrators because of the level of choices that their kids can make during those times,” Superintendent of Schools Jeffrey Szymaniak said. Statistics show it is the peak time for risky behavior.
“It’s not to make people sad, it’s to make people think,” he said of the documentary screening, which the school plans to repeat for high school students.
District Attorney Timothy Cruz briefed the audience of students and parents on the points of the Social Host Law.
He said parents who host teen parties where alcohol consumption takes place, risk both criminal charges and civil liabilities when accidents occur as a result of underage drinking.
“If you know a parent that may be considering doing that, tell them this,” Cruz said. “Tell them it’s illegal. Tell them that, if you provide alcohol to a minor at your home, and, if they leave your home, your responsibility is not over. If they drive their car, after being inebriated by drugs, alcohol or whatever and there is — god forbid — a terrible accident and somebody gets hurt or killed, you will be sued.”
Szymaniak said there had already been a recent incident in which a group of seniors were caught having a party at a home during the school day.
Cruz and Szymaniak warned that local police also file charges against parents or 18-year-olds who violate the Social Host Law.
Szymaniak said he has “buried probably 25 kids” in his years a school administrator and the described regret their classmates experienced over not taking their keys before they got behind the wheel after drinking.
“We all want to be friends with our kids,” Cruz said to emphasize the point. “My answer has always been, I’ll be friends with them when they’re 25. Up until that point, I’m their father.”
He urged the teens in the audience to take care of each other and stop them from taking risks in their behaviors to save lives.
“I applaud these parents who have worked so hard to get the word out,” Cruz said of Winchester parents Geoff and Genny Soper, who are taking a lead role in the fight against the party culture of mixing prescription drugs and alcohol after their eldest son, Clay, died after taking Xanax followed by a night of heavy drinking.
“Their strength really impresses me,” Cruz said. “They are doing what they can to make sure that other parents don’t [suffer] what happened to them.”
A family’s anguish
The Whitman-Hanson WILL program featured the documentary about their son’s last night alive, “If They Had Known,” during a pre-prom and graduation season program held at the Dr. John F. McEwan Performing Arts Center.
The Sopers were scheduled to appear at the program, but Whitman-Hanson WILL organizers explained they felt unable to cope with the emotion of reliving the experience in a public setting at this time.
Founded in 2014, Whitman-Hanson WILL works to bring awareness to the importance of good decision-making about the use of alcohol and/or drugs.
“We’ve transitioned into all types of decision-making that are core for our youth, including texting and driving, drunk driving and all sorts of substances,” Szymaniak said. “The organization works with us in the community in the schools and in community outreach both in Whitman and Hanson.”
Clay Soper, then 19, was home for a winter break while attending the University of Denver, when he and some friends got together at one of their homes in 2015 when they decided to try Xanax before going to another house party where Clay had too much to drink.
His friends thought it best to get him in bed to sleep it off, but the mix of the prescription anti-anxiety medication and alcohol caused his heart and respiratory system to fatally slow down.
Friends’ efforts at CPR, when he was found to be pale and unresponsive were unsuccessful. Clay was pronounced dead at the hospital.
“You know who mixes,” Szymaniak said to the teens in the audience after the documentary was shown. “You know where the parties are, who know who brings what, you know what’s out there, and you know [what can happen] if you choose to do this or not.”
Hanson School Resource Officer William Frasier, Whitman Lt. Dan Connolly, Whitman Deputy Police Chief Timothy Hanlon and Hanson Lt. Mike Casey also attended the event in case parents had questions or concerns following the program.