Parents, guardians, teens, and the treatment team of Franklin County’s adolescent drug court heard from parent and marijuana prevention activist Darryl Rodgers on October 18 as he described his own experience as a parent of a child using cannabis.
Darryl Rodgers and his wife Kim lost their 20-year- old son Chase in a car wreck when the driver with whom their son was riding lost control and crashed into a tree in his home state of North Carolina. A years-long struggle with cannabis use and addiction left Chase dead at the scene,his friend facing charges and ultimately taking her own life, and his family trying to grasp what had gone wrong.
Rodgers’ answer to this tragedy was to piece together Chase’s life in a short film, “Deadly Influences,” in which he chronicles Chase’s descent into substance use and school failure. Through home videos, interviews with friends and family, and news clips, Darryl tells the story of Chase’s short life and the impact of his substance use and death on a community. Through the telling of his son’s story and reaching out to students, parents, churches, and community
leaders, he has pursued his goal to help other young people make healthy choices.
The Juvenile Drug Treatment Court team seized the chance to have Darryl Rodgers address their participants. Franklin County Juvenile Treatment Court is an intervention program for youth who have at least one act of delinquency and want to change their lifestyles by being sober from all substances. The team is a collaboration between the Family Court Judge, State’s Attorney, Public Defender’s Office, Department of Children and Families (DCF) and Northwestern Counseling and Support Services (NCSS) treatment providers. Participants are expected to remain sober, to attend group and individual treatment sessions, and to be involved in their education and community. Participants who successfully graduate from the program have the benefit of living a sober lifestyle and having their legal record expunged.
Mr. Rodgers talked frankly about the impact of marijuana on his son’s life. He described the change in friends, loss of motivation in school, deterioration of respect, and noticeable weight loss that troubled him and his family and eventually led him to stage an intervention for his son.
He spoke with obvious emotion of the impact of Chase’s addiction and death on the family, Chase’s friends, and the family of the young woman who took her own life in the wake of Chase’s death. Drug Court team members Judge Mary Morrissey and Tricia Brett of DCF
commented afterward that Mr. Rodgers’ presentation resonated with the young people and their families.
The following week, speaking to about 400 students and staff at BFA Fairfax, Mr. Rodgers expressed concern that those promoting the legal sale of cannabis had their eyes on the money rather than on the well-being of teens and young adults. He drew a comparison with the tobacco industry, which spends billions of dollars to recruit teens as customers, and contrasted the high-potency cannabis of today with the marijuana that parents and grandparents smoked 30 plus years ago. He spoke about his son Chase, whose playful character, athletic talent, and ambition were lost to cannabis use, and who — on the verge of recovery — relapsed with fatal results.
Mr. Rodgers also spoke about the physical effects of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, on brain and nervous system development in children and teens. He addressed the difficulty in assessing impairment and assigning fault in driving offenses.
In a message of hope and resilience, Mr. Rodgers talked to the students about the superpowers that each of them possesses: the power of choice, the power of association, the power of love, and the power to intervene. Finally, he asked them to consider discontinuing friendships with people who were bringing them down. During lunch, students came by to chat with him and student assistance counselor Joanne Saunders about their own experiences and reactions. Then Mr. Rodgers was off to another presentation in Vergennes. Mr. Rodgers’ visit to Vermont was hosted and organized by Bob Orleck, former assistant attorney general and retired pharmacist. Orleck has been active in the effort to defeat legalization of non-medical cannabis commerce in Vermont and arranged visits at several schools and churches over the course of his time in Vermont.