As he spoke to a group of concerned parents and other people about the dangers of underage drinking and drug use Wednesday night, Lake County circuit court Judge Daniel Shanes emphasized the need for the audience members to have similar conversations at home.
"We have to talk to our kids," Shanes told the group at Stevenson High School. "Silence isn't golden. Silence is permission."
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Shanes and a half-dozen other speakers led the forum, an annual springtime event at the Lincolnshire school. His peers on the dais included Master Sgt. Christopher Sullivan, director of the Lake County Metropolitan Enforcement Group; Assistant State's Attorney Danielle Pascucci; and Dr. William Watson, a surgeon at Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville.
Sullivan opened the discussion by talking about the types of drugs prevalent in Lake County, especially marijuana, heroin, Ecstasy and prescription narcotics. Synthetic marijuana -- which is gaining popularity here and across the suburbs -- was a chief concern for Sullivan.
As quickly as the state and municipalities can add chemical variations of synthetic drugs to the list of illegal substances, drugmakers come up with new formulas, he said.
"It's kind of hard to keep up," Sullivan said. "We try to stay one step ahead, but it's hard to do."
Shanes focused on alcohol abuse. He shocked the audience by talking about a defendant in his courtroom who was arrested and charged with underage drinking. The girl had consumed two beers, she said.
She was 12.
"It is never too late to talk to our kids about this issue," Shanes said. "And it is never too early to talk to our kids about this issue."
Whereas Shanes peppered his remarks with jokes to lighten the mood, Watson had a very different approach. He talked about having to call parents in the middle of the night because their children were badly hurt in car accidents caused by drug or alcohol use.
"I want to scare you," Watson said, before he showed the audience gruesome photographs and X-rays from drunken driving accidents. "I don't want to see you in the emergency room."
A representative from a suburban addiction treatment center talked about how her center works with young patients. She was followed by a young man who went through such a program after years of alcohol and drug abuse. The teen's mother talked about her experiences, too.
The forum was organized by student-assistance program coordinators at Stevenson High School, Libertyville High, Vernon Hills High and Buffalo Grove High.