Dozens of 11, 12 and 13-year-old students were urged to shout out the word "No' inside of Saint Mark's Church on Tuesday morning. They did it at the urging of Bishop Richard J. Malone, bishop of Buffalo, who was stressing to them the dangers of substance abuse as part of Red Ribbon Week.
Bishop Malone compared the spread of substance abuse to an epidemic like influenza. "We don't mean to scare you, but we do in a little way so that you will always, always have the strength and courage to say 'no'. I'm counting on you young folks, not only to be very attentive to this, yourselves, but to help each other with it too. If you have a friend or a classmate who says 'look what I found' or 'look what someone gave me' you should say "No!" Don't be afraid to do it just like that."
The students, ranging from fifth to eighth grade at St. Mark School in North Buffalo, were also addressed by Avi Israel, whose son Michael used to attend the school. At age 12, Michael developed Crohn's Disease and was prescribed pain medication. This eventually led to an addiction that claimed Michael's life at age 20. "Before you know it, he was on medication called opioids. It's a painkiller and it's very addictive. It got Michael addicted and it didn't take long before Michael passed away, " said Israel.
Each student was given a thumb drive which provided a link to the website, www.SaveTheMichaels.org , the non-profit organization created by the Israel family after Michael's death to raise awareness about the danger of addiction. "The reason I want to tell you this stuff is to make you aware of how serious addiction can be and what I would like you folks to do is maybe you have a conversation with your parents and ask them to start talking to you about addiction."
Students were also given red t-shirts which read, 'End the stigma. Addiction is a disease not a choice." Bishop Malone reminded them that they have learned to show respect in sacred places like churches. "Our bodies are also holy and that's another reason why we have an obligation, a responsibility to care for our bodies in every way."