When Isaac Perger was a sophomore, he was approached in the hall about becoming a peer leader for the drug and alcohol prevention program STARS (Students Taking a Right Stand).
“I had no idea what it even was,” Perger recalled, “but I figured, ‘This is what I stand for, so why not?’”
Two years later, Perger, now a senior, is glad he got involved.
As one of 26 peer leaders at HHS, he speaks with high school students already dealing with addiction problems and with middle school students who might in the future if no one intervenes.
Their work seems more relevant than ever given the opioid epidemic President Trump calls a “national health emergency.”
Sixty-four thousand Americans died from drug overdoses last year – a 21 percent increase from 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About three-fourths of all drug overdoses now are caused by opioids, which include prescription painkillers as well as heroin and potent synthetic versions like fentanyl, the CDC reports.
To put the numbers into context, more people died from drug overdoses last year than the 58,200 Americans who lost their lives during the entire Vietnam War.
“All it takes is one time to really affect you and ruin your life,” Perger said.
Many think young people absorb that message better when it comes from a peer instead of an adult, and that is where Perger and the other peer leaders come in.
“I feel like from us they can relate more because we’re closer to the same age,” said Bailey Williams, another HHS senior and STARS peer leader. “They hear a teacher speak all the time, it doesn’t mean as much. When it comes from a peer, it means more.”
Not all STARS peer leaders come to the program as Perger did. Senior Laney Perry, for example, was encouraged to join by older friends.
“I didn’t know much about it at first, but I got more excited about it after I applied,” Perry recalled.
Debbie Sheets, head of STARS, said peer leaders often become role models to other students, many of whom are dealing with depression and anxiety as well as with drugs and alcohol.
Sometimes, the intervention is so effective that the counseled become the counselor.
“We even see some of the kids we counsel come and apply to be a peer leader after showing growth from their issues,” Sheets said.
If interested in becoming a STARS peer leader, see Sheets in the social studies hallway, across from Room 104.
Story by Kennedy Tilson, Caden Watterson and Peter Livesay