Olivia Guzzo shuffled a handful of pictures in her hands as she waited for her turn to speak.
The 10-year-old Tommie Barfield Elementary fourth-grader wanted to make sure none of her classmates ended up like her cousin, Jesse.
Two years ago, when he was 16 years old, he accidentally overdosed on drugs, she told her classmates. He didn’t die, but because of the amount of drugs in his system, he is severely disabled.
“I was really sad when I found out,” Olivia said Wednesday. “It’s hard to explain how I felt.”
Olivia’s presentation was part of the Collier County Junior Deputy program, said Marco Island police officer Jen Lofy.
While Wednesday’s Junior Deputy class was meant to focus on how to use the 911 emergency phone service, Lofy said she wanted students to have a better understanding of the effects of drug use.
“I wanted Olivia to share this with you,” Lofy said to Christine Farhat’s fourth-grade class Wednesday morning. “This is what could really happen if you take drugs.”
Susan Guzzo said her nephew, Jesse, overdosed on drugs two years ago, causing him to become severely disabled. Now18 years old, he is in a wheelchair and cannot feed himself, Guzzo said.
“He’s made a big impact on Olivia,” Guzzo said. “I’m very proud of her. She says to me ‘I have a commercial for drugs running through my head all the time.’¤”
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the number of teens abusing prescription drugs, like OxyContin and Vicodin, has continued to rise. In 2006, a study showed a nearly 10 percent increase in use among high school seniors and a 3 percent increase among students in eighth grade. The institute also found that white teenagers have a higher rate of drug use, compared to African-American or Hispanic teens.
The junior deputy program is offered to Collier County fourth- and fifth-grade students, according to the sheriff’s department’s Web site. Lofy said Tommie Barfield students discuss a different topic each month, and the drug use section is used as a primer to the D.A.R.E. program the students will participate in once they enter fifth grade.
While students had already discussed drug abuse, Lofy said she wanted to go over the topic once more before students finished school for the year.
“Olivia did such a good job on this project that I wanted her to share it with her other classmates,” Lofy said. “This is a good start to D.A.R.E. that Olivia was ready to share with us.”
D.A.R.E, or Drug Abuse Resistance Education, was founded in 1983 as a way to keep children from drugs, gangs and violence, according to the organization’s Web site. Founded in Los Angeles, the program has expanded to more than 75 percent of the country’s school districts and is in more than 45 different countries.
Olivia said she hoped her presentation would deter her classmates from doing drugs in the future.
“I don’t want anything to happen to my classmates,” she said.