Maine family takes the lead on drug awareness, prevention

Lu Ann and Marc Frenette with their children: Miles, 7; Lucy, 9; and Isabelle, 11.

“It takes more than love to save someone,” summed up Marc Frenette, of Lewiston. His family knows personally how drug addiction can kill. Marc’s wife, Lu Ann, lost her cousin in 2009 to a drug overdose.

That’s one big reason why Marc, an attorney, and Lu Ann, a school nurse, have made sure their three children know the dangers of addiction. And their prevention efforts have spread. Spearheaded by their 11-year-old daughter, Isabelle, this fall the family joined a nationwide public awareness event called the Red Ribbon Campaign, which is organized by the National Family Partnership.

Marc, Lu Ann, Isabelle, Lucy, 9, and Miles, 7, decorated the front of their home to fit the theme “the best me is drug free,” took a picture and then uploaded it to the Red Ribbon website. From there, during a voting period in November, they encouraged everyone they knew to vote for their picture online. When they spread the word on Facebook and in person, it gave them an opportunity to encourage others to talk about drug prevention.

More than 140,000 people cast votes across the country for the different entries in 10 designated regions. Region 1 included Maine, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Vermont.

To the joy of the family and their school, the Frenettes won for their region. They received a total of 2,712 votes, according to Red Ribbon staff.

Isabelle, who is in sixth grade at Louis J. Martel Elementary School in Lewiston, won $1,000 for the school, to be used for drug prevention awareness. The family will also receive an iPad for the home.

“Funds are limited, and, especially with all of the financial issues with the state and federal government, this will be a big help, and we also think it’s a great effort by a family to promote this and do something positive,” said Steve Whitfield, principal of the school.

Marc and Lu Ann said it’s important for parents to talk honestly with their children about drugs.

“Obviously we talk to them in words they can understand, and we try to set a good example,” Marc said. “When you see someone die from this, it wakes everyone up.”

“We put the message out there: Just don’t even start,” Lu Ann said. Talk to your children about peer pressure, she said. If a friend urges your child to just try something, make sure your child knows “that’s how the addiction starts, just by trying something.”

There are ways to lower the chance young people will try drugs. The National Family Partnership says that children of parents who talk to their teens regularly about drugs are 42 percent less likely to use drugs than those who don’t. Only a quarter of teens, however, report having these conversations with their parents.

It takes individual, personalized, sustained talks to get the message across. The Frenette children already understand the importance of spreading the word.

Nine-year-old Lucy said if she could tell other children about drugs, she would say: “You’re putting yourself in a spot that’s really dangerous and that no one really wants to be in and that you could kill yourself in.”

If only her peers would hear her and listen.

Erin Rhoda

About Erin Rhoda

Erin Rhoda is editor of Maine Focus, a journalism and community engagement initiative by the Bangor Daily News.