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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Schools should teach the horrors of heroin addiction

Heroin, narcotics and weapons seized from a recent

Heroin, narcotics and weapons seized from a recent drug bust. (Dec. 17, 2009) Photo Credit: Kathy Kmonicek

Two special agents from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration traveled to Chaminade High School this week to speak, man to young man, about heroin.

The DEA did it in a way that no other agency can, which is, perhaps, why 99.9 percent of the 1,000 students filling the auditorium appeared to be paying attention 99.9 percent of the time to the agents' presentation.

"They showed us real pictures, gave us real information," senior James Kovar said after Tuesday's program. "It wasn't up in the air, not like, 'Don't do drugs.' It was concrete, and most Chaminade guys do better with concrete."

>> PHOTOS: Heroin on the rise in Suffolk

It probably helped that one special agent, Robert Michaels, is a 1982 Chaminade graduate, and that the other, Charles Bernard, who made the main presentation, has a slew of visuals that show the scourge of heroin through DEA eyes. They included everything from video of people using high-tech watercraft to ferry their deadly product to U.S. shores - where most of it ends up in the Northeast corridor that includes Long Island - to photos of 3.1 kilos of heroin carefully and artfully fashioned into a musical instrument.

Which instrument?

I'm not giving that - or a part of the presentation that elicited gasps from the auditorium - away because the DEA is slated to go on to the Commack, Sachem and Miller Place school districts. Already, they've been to other schools including Island Trees, Shoreham-Wading River, Hauppauge and St. Anthony's.

What's astonishing is that - judging from e-mails I continue to receive from parents - there are still schools on Long Island that are trying to ignore heroin and the ever-growing shadow it casts on young people, families and local communities.

For them, a U.S. Justice Department DEA-inspired lesson is in order.

The agency's New York region office, which covers Long Island, finds about 14 percent of all heroin seized in the United States by the DEA, John Gilbride, special agent in charge of DEA New York, said in an interview.

In addition, New York City is a major smuggling and distribution center for heroin, which is then distributed for repacking and sale from as far north as Maine, as far south as Atlanta and as far west as Detroit.

The primary source of the drug is South and Central America, where drug lords, using established cocaine-smuggling routes, "created a market in the Northeast for heroin during the 1990s by giving kilos away," Gilbride said. The money that comes from the heroin trade goes back to fund, among other things, terrorists.

"This is an elite school and you are elite students," Bernard said early on. "I want you guys to be able to get your arms around this problem," he said, ". . . to make the right call, to make the right decisions."

What followed was a lesson that touched on geography, economics, history, pharmacology, excavation, biology, marketing.

The dealers' main goal, Bernard said, "Is getting their poison into your bodies, and if they don't, they lose."

The special agents hammered home another point. "If we can save one of you," Bernard said, "we have done our job."

Why bring federal drug enforcement agents - or for that matter, any heroin-education program - into a private school? "Our students come from Montauk to Manhattan," said the Rev. James Williams, the school's president. "They have been touched by this because they know families touched by this or they have been to wakes and funerals of acquaintances touched by this."

He said he wanted Chaminade students to have good, hard information. "There is no stigma in inviting in the DEA," he said after the program. "We wanted them here. That was good information; it was the kind of information any parent would want, don't you think?"

Yeah, I think. Which is why every school district ought to make it possible for students, and parents, to learn as much as possible about what heroin is doing to Long Island.

>> PHOTOS: Heroin on the rise in Suffolk

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