WASHINGTON TWP. — Like many troubled teens, West Morris Central High School student Peter Marley thought that his slippery slope of experimentation with drugs was harmless curiosity.
Curiosity almost killed the 17-year-old senior when he blacked out during a morning engineering class from a drug overdose on Tuesday, Sept. 16.
Marley’s memories of the morning are hazy, but two hours prior, he had taken a half gram pill of dextromethorphan, or DXM, a powerful ingredient in cough syrup. Marley could not be contacted but he spoke about his experiences in the video. The incident also was confirmed by school officials.
“When I took that pill, I thought that I could handle a little more,” Marley said in the video. “I couldn’t.”
Cough syrup containing DXM is often abused for its hallucinogenic properties. Low doses can cause mild stimulation, euphoria and hallucinations, with higher doses causing loss of motor skills, distortion of the senses, and dissociative sedation effects like out of body experiences, according to the World Health Organization.
Cough syrup containing DXM comes with many unwanted side effects from its other ingredients. Ingredients like acetaminophen can cause liver damage from recreational use. Information is readily available to easily extract the DXM from the syrup for kids who want more of the high and less of the rest.
Refining out the DXM does not mitigate the real danger of substance abuse.
Marley said the half a gram was double the common recreational dose of a fifth of a gram. It sent him into bouts of incoherence and unresponsive blacking out. He said he recalled flashes of faculty, staff, police and school nurses. They struggled to stabilize his vitals, with a blood pressure of 190/80, while EMTs came to save him.
Marley’s next memory was in a hospital bed with his parents by his side.
“I cannot describe the look on their faces,” Marley said.
The following hours were filled with discussions with doctors, social workers and a psychologist about what had happened. Marley was later discharged, and was moved to make his video, his own, personal public safety announcement.
Marley said he went down the path of drug abuse, starting with cigarettes. Then, it was the late craze of vaporizers. Then it was marijuana. He found DXM and was abusing it habitually and exclusively over the past summer. With effects often hard for others to notice, it was easy to abuse at school.
Marley said that he thought he could handle more and he was wrong.
“You can’t just take one more pill, one more drink, one more hour out, one more person in your car,” he said.
The ability to rationalize that the drug wasn’t that bad, that a little breaking the rules was not serious, is the real danger of excess.
“I’m not saying that as an insult. I’m saying that because you don’t know what can happen when you overdo it just a little,” Marley said. “For me, it took 16 people to save my life and I traumatized every single one of them. I don’t want that to happen to anyone else.”
Marley said that he’s struggled with his drug abuse for a year, and his video is a contract he puts forward for others to tell their story, to come clean and make a promise to avoid dangerous and illegal substances.
Cathleen Cartier is the student assistance counselor at West Morris Central.
“For me, I feel that addiction is often not recognized as the illness that it is,” Cartier said.
“People are embarrassed to share it because others think of the person’s choices, not the illness. Our nation and our communities, can look at it more as the illness that is to lead to more treatment and education. In changing the culture, more people will come out for their health.”
In an effort to battle the negative stereotype of stories like Marley’s, Cartier extends her services not just to the student body but anyone in the community.
In addition to one-on-one assistance, Cartier is preparing educational programs this year geared towards “mentalities on mental health.”
A parent education series in the works is a three part panel focusing on drug trends, the definition of addiction, and the process of recovery.
A related program, “Attitudes in Reverse,” is scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 22. “Attitudes in Reverse” or AIR, will focus on youth suicide. It will be held at 7 p.m. in the West Morris Central auditorium
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