MARICOPA — The City Council chambers was filled parents sitting next to their teens Saturday as the main panel at the Teen Hall began speaking.

Maricopa Police Chief Steve Stahl, Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb and Pinal County Attorney Kent Volkmer discussed how public safety is weakened by substance use, abuse and addiction.

The group offered straight talk to more than 100 teens and parents.

“Do as I say, not as I do” no longer works to guide a teen, Stahl said.

Instead, Stahl urged a hands-on approach and invited Maricopa parents to “bring your kids to the Police Department to see how people act under the influence of drugs — excessive alcohol, marijuana or other drugs.

“Kids learn from seeing. It’s the reason you have YouTube. We are letting our kids down if we let them see the fake stuff. Let them see reality.”

Lamb made clear he does not support legalizing marijuana in Arizona but that he will enforce whatever laws voters pass, as that is his mandate. The sheriff also distinguished his position on marijuana from the use of hemp and CBD oil.

Weighing in on the medical use of marijuana to treat anxiety disorders of any type, Alyssa Tonking, a La Frontera substance abuse therapist in Maricopa, said, “Medical marijuana is not for treating mental disorders and if it is being used to treat anxiety in Arizona, it’s illegal.” Her statement was met with nods of agreement by other panel members.

A speaker from the audience shared his experience on the importance of what people do being more important than what they say in influencing the choices children make.

Speaking to teens, he said, “Watch your eyes, ears and heart because whatever goes in will influence you.”

He gave his testimony about how drug use destroyed his life for 35 years and led him to follow so-called friends to prison. Now living a different life without drugs in which he “makes better choices," he is now working and in college and realized what he has missed.

Lamb, who offers a mentorship class for teens, advised them, “You must develop the strength to make your own decisions at a young age. Your parents are only here for the first 18 years.”

Lamb firmly believes that “everyone is blessed with a certain set of special skills. Once you find them, don’t be afraid to be confident in your ability and most importantly, don’t beat yourself up, don’t be your own worst critic.”

He offers a ride-along program for teens 12-18 years of age with parental permission.

Psychiatric nurse practitioner Kelsey Brisbin, who recently opened a counseling practice in Maricopa, urged parents to provide information to teens and to “create an open, loving dialogue about drugs, not a hard line of ‘do not do this or else’” because that tends to drive teens toward the behavior rather than away from it.

Volkmer emphasized the importance of rejecting the idea that using pot as a teen is normal. He suggested doing this by actively letting teens know that using pot is not the norm.

“Less than 13% of youth have used pot in the past 30 days. That means six out of seven have not used,” he said.

Tonking chimed in by saying that marijuana and other drugs have an important social aspect to them. Especially during the teens, people have a need to be liked and accepted by a group and are not yet sure of who they are, who they want to be and where they fit in.

Tonking asked teens to remember, “Those who offer you drugs, even marijuana, are not your friends. I’ve worked with people from age 18 to 60 and beyond, and marijuana truly is the gateway drug to a lifetime of harder drug use.”

Another workshop offered information on the topic of a growing problem — suicide. Rural suicide rates are increasing across America, and Pinal County is no exception.

Julie Mack, suicide prevention administrator for Arizona Complete Health, traveled from Tucson to be at the event.

“While 90% of attempted suicides do not result in death, the tragedy is that 10% do die,” she said.

Mack offered statistics for why any community may be concerned about suicide. There is a ripple effect to suicide — over 50 people are impacted by a single suicide. It is now the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.

Mack also offered a "QPR" method — question, persuade, refer — and gave examples of each as a way to prevent suicide. She likened using the method to using CPR to relieve cardiac arrest or the Heimlich Maneuver to relieve airway distress.

People who are suicidal, including teens, do not have a goal of dying but of getting rid of the pain, according to Mack. By helping buoy up a person’s confidence and self-esteem, in a realistic way, you may be able to help save a life.

“Suicidal people have tunnel vision,” Mack said. Depending on their support system of friends and family, which Mack likened to a brick-and-mortar wall, they may or may not have the strength to counteract that vision.

Her message to students was “you can be that person — to counteract the tunnel vision” by reaching out for help and by using the QPR method.

Mack noted the large spike in calls to the National Suicide Hotline following the Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade suicides a few years ago. She credits the increased calls to the hotline to people who were already considering suicide discovering the national hotline number as a result of the widespread press following the two high-profile suicides.

Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or the Lifeline in Spanish, 1-888-628-9454. Rather text? Contact Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.

Be Awesome 2019 offered seven other panel presentations for teens including one on how to plan to enter the working trades early, teen addiction and recovery, internet safety for teens, conflict resolution and coping for parents and teens, and how to get and keep a job.

A special feature at Be Awesome offered a live interview room where teens were asked the top five core interview questions guaranteed to be asked in an interview, with options for top five questions from the following: entry-level job interviews, academic-related job or school positions, situational questions and career-related questions, each set depending on the goals and needs of the teen.

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