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Town hall to address ‘consequences of silence’ and substance abuse

MANATEE — Florida’s reputation as a “pill mill” for much of the rest of the country and the ready availability of beer and liquor for underage drinkers can have devastating consequences for young people.

The Manatee County Substance Abuse Coalition presents a town hall meeting at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Pirate City, 1701 27th St. E., Bradenton, seeking to make a difference for youth and their families.

Titled “The Courage to Speak: Consequences of Silence,” the town hall will feature two families who have dealt with the tragedy of substance abuse and small group discussions led by trained students.

The town hall comes at spring break and just before high school graduation, times when local youth are at higher risk of substance abuse, said Sharon Kramer, executive director for the Manatee County Substance Abuse Coalition.

A 2008 Florida youth substance abuse survey showed that nearly one-third of Manatee County students had used alcohol in the previous 30 days, making it the most commonly used drug among youth.

Marijuana and cigarettes were the second- and third-most used drugs within the same period, respectively.

Ruth Lyerly, who will take part in the town hall with her 17-year-old son, Jack, said Sunday the abuse of prescription pain medication is a serious and growing problem, too.

Her son, Todd Peurifoy, took his own life at 18 in 2005 after a struggle with prescription drugs.

Young people may believe that since the painkillers are prescription medication they are safe.

“That’s a real misconception; then they mix them with other drugs or with alcohol,” Lyerly said of the potential for a lethal cocktail.

At a recent substance abuse conference in Washington, D.C., Lyerly was surprised to learn of Florida’s national reputation as a pill mill, and how many people came to the state to buy prescription medications and then return home to sell them.

Jack Lyerly was only 12 when his older brother took his own life and, and he’s more than willing to speak out on the dangers of substance abuse. “I applaud him,” said his mother. “It’s not easy.”

Also expected to participate in the town hall is Monica Costello, whose son, Ryan, was involved in an accident off the Anna Maria Island Bridge in 2006. The accident was alcohol-related, and Ryan, who was 20 at the time, was left a quadriplegic.

One of the things the coalition has put together for the town hall meeting is a drug testing kit that families can use if they find suspicious substances in the home, Kramer said. The kit can test for 11 substances, including opiates, amphetamines, cocaine and more.

Organizers of the town hall hope families and youth will turn out strongly.

A free family meal, Pittsburgh Pirates autographs and prizes will be offered for youth who bring an adult.

For more information: skramer@drugfree

James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee Editor, can be contacted at 745-7021.