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OMS students learn consequences of substance abuse

OMS eighth-grader Julian Messina attempts to walk a straight line while wearing goggles designed to simulate an intoxicated person’s vision. Making sure he doesn’t fall is Det. Ron Tuski, of the Auburn Hills Police Department. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio. (click for larger version)
December 07, 2011 - Oxford Middle School's eighth-graders received a sobering lesson in the consequences of illegal drug use and underage alcohol consumption when 52-3 District Court Judge Julie Nicholson visited them Dec. 1.

Students witnessed firsthand some of the legal consequences of possessing illicit drugs and abusing alcohol as Nicholson conducted court proceedings in the school's cafeteria and sentenced two young men convicted of substance-related crimes.

"These are not mock or pretend cases," the judge said. "These individuals have agreed to come here today . . . hopefully to give you the benefits of their experiences."

"I completely regret everything I did that night," said the 19-year-old defendant, who was convicted of being a minor in possession of alcohol and possessing marijuana. "I've completely learned from it. I will never do this again."

Nicholson asked the young man why he started drinking and smoking marijuana.

He replied, "I just thought it was cool."

Now, he realizes "it's not worth any of this."

Nicholson reminded the young man, who's a sophomore in college, about how making poor decisions now can negatively impact future employment and educational opportunities. "You can't change what's already happened, but you certainly can make better decisions in the future," she said.

The other defendant, who was convicted of a marijuana-related offense, told Nicholson he started using the drug when he was about 17 as a result of his "social environment" and a desire to experiment with his friends.

When the judge asked him how he plans to avoid further contact with the drug, the young man indicated he would "detach" himself from friends who use it and "stay busy with work."

Following the sentencings – which included various fines, probation, community service and regular drug testing – Nicholson talked to OMS students about the law and making good choices.

She reminded students the legal age to drink alcohol in Michigan is 21.

"It's not 16 when you can get your driver's license," she said. "It's not 18 when you're considered to be an adult. It's not 20 years old and 11 months. It is 21."

Anyone caught drinking under age 21 can be charged with the misdemeanor offense of being a minor in possession.

It's a crime for any driver age 21 and older to have a blood-alcohol content (BAC) of .08 percent or greater. But for drivers under 21, it's a crime to have a BAC of .02 percent or greater.

"That is very important to know because a lot of people when they start driving, they think the legal limit's .08, but yet they're not 21," she said. "You can be charged with what's called a zero-tolerance violation, which is, again, a misdemeanor violation."

Nicholson stressed that despite the legalization of marijuana for medical use, it is still not legal for recreational use.

"There's a lot of confusion right now because of the medical marijuana issue," she said. "A lot of people think it's okay to use marijuana. That is not true. Marijuana is illegal to possess or use in the state of Michigan."

Two eighth-graders, Julian Messina and Lisa Savich, were invited to demonstrate some of the physical effects of alcohol use.

First, they performed three sobriety tests, such as walking a straight line, that police officers typically administer along the side of the road when they stop a motorist suspected of drunken driving.

They then performed those same tests again, but this time they wore special goggles designed to simulate how an intoxicated person would view things by distorting the wearer's vision.

One set of goggles simulated a blood alcohol content of about .1 to .12 percent, while the other pair simulated a "slightly higher" level of intoxication with the added difficulty of "nighttime conditions."

Neither student could successfully perform any of the simple tests while wearing either pair of goggles.

"You'd be crazy to get into a car with somebody who was wearing those goggles when you know it's distorting their vision," Nicholson said. "When you know somebody's been drinking and they're driving a car, think about how that affects their vision and imagine them wearing those goggles."

"That's only how their vision is distorted," she noted. "We're not even talking about what's happening up here in terms of their judgment – how it is distorted because of the alcohol consumption."

Following the sobriety tests, the students watched a video presentation that showed how drug and alcohol abuse can tragically end the lives of users and others.

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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