The message was clear to parents Wednesday during a drug seminar at Boyne City High School -- they need to be their children's hero.
According to Charlevoix County Undersheriff Chuck Vondra there is a 'drug epidemic' going on in Northern Michigan, and parents have to do whatever it takes to keep their children safe.
"I didn't come here to drug test your kids," Vondra said. "However, we feel strongly that parents and the community are vital in preventing drug use.
"If your parents trust you, that's great; but if they love you, they'll test you."
Scott Kelley, executive director of Bay Area Substance Abuse Education Services of Charlevoix, said he couldn't agree more with Vondra about the parents' role.
"All parents want to be the hero by bailing their children out of jail, or getting them a lawyer, but in these scenarios, that's the villain," Kelly said. "The hero is the parent standing in the doorway and keeping their child from going out and getting into trouble."
According to a statistic from Bay Area Substance Abuse Education Services, since the year 2000, more than 500 deaths in Northern Michigan have been related to substance abuse.
Vondra told audience members Wednesday that he believes more than half of students in Charlevoix County are involved in illicit or prescription drug use.
He threw out even more statistics that made the audience gasp, including; that the average age of a new user is 10, and their drug of choice is Vicodin; a person does not need a prescription to buy a needle from a pharmacy; and the most commonly abused drugs in Boyne City are ecstasy, acid, marijuana, heroin and prescription drugs.
Vondra said if a person is unable to obtain a prescription for their opiate fix, they often turn to heroin, which is a cheaper alternative, as well as an illicit street drug.
"(Heroin) is 'the boogeyman' -- once a person uses it, they're hooked" he said. "I can tell you that there's nine people selling heroin in Charlevoix County right now."
Vondra explained that children and teens are more susceptible to drugs now more than ever.
"When I was going to school, the social groups used to be divided up between the brains, the athletes and the people we called 'the burnouts,'" he said. "Now, what we're finding is those groups have merged -- there are no social barriers.
"Your kids have greater exposure to the bad stuff."
Vondra also said that developing technology plays a role in the "epidemic."
"(Youth) all have cell phones and they can be in contact with anyone at anytime," he said. "But if I catch them doing drugs, I'll take their cell phone, car and their money too."
Charlevoix County Prosecutor John Jarema explained several recent drug cases to the audience, but he stressed that things do not always have to make it to the court system.
"Community policing starts with you out there -- it starts with schools, parents and the community," he said. "If parents can take care of the problem before it comes to (Vondra) and myself, they are two steps ahead of the curve."
In 2010, Vondra said Charlevoix County has investigated around 125 drug cases.
"We haven't put a dent in the problem that's out there right now," he said.
Dawn Jensen, a parent from Petoskey, said she was shocked by some of the information that was presented during the seminar.
"This is a real eye opener," she said. "It's just so surprising that it's that close."
Mark Patrick of Boyne City said after this discussion, he plans to drug test his children.
"I have one in high school and one in middle school ... I don't suspect anything with my children, but you hear other parents saying the same thing," he said. "I hadn't planned on (drug testing) before tonight."
To receive a free RediTest, a substance abuse screening device, contact the Charlevoix County Sheriff's Office at (231) 547-4461.
For more information about Bay Area Substance Abuse Education Services, call 547-1144, or visit www.basesteencenter.org.
Additional resources for parents include Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE), www.dare.com; Mothers Against Drunk Driving, www.madd.org; National Institute on Drug Abuse, www.nida.nih.org; Parents. The Anti Drug, www.theantidrug.com; and Partnership for a Drug Free America, www.drugfree.org.