Players get drug ‘wake-up’ call

A handful of Red Deer Rebels had their eyes opened to the powerful grip that drugs can have on users.

Josh Cowen gave a very convincing talk about drug use to the Downtown Red Deer Rotary Club.

Josh Cowen gave a very convincing talk about drug use to the Downtown Red Deer Rotary Club.

A handful of Red Deer Rebels had their eyes opened to the powerful grip that drugs can have on users.

Six players from the Western Hockey League — Alex Petrovic, Byron Froese, Aaron Borejko, Andrej Kudrna, Justin Weller and Josh Cowen — toured Vancouver’s East Hastings for two days in October with the RCMP/Hockey Drug Squad program. They are now sharing their experience with Central Alberta students in Grades 7 to 10 in hopes of deterring youth from taking that first hit.

“I want to relay that message to children, that one wrong choice can lead to this,” Borejko said during a presentation that the group made at the Red Deer Downtown Rotary Club meeting on Monday.

“If I can change one person’s life, I know I’ve done my job,” Cowen added.

“Scary,” “disturbing” and “eye opening” was how the hockey players described the time they spent wandering the infamous neighbourhood with police.

The streets were littered with vomit, feces and dirty needles, Cowen said.

Prostitutes were trying to sell their bodies in exchange for their next fix while addicts openly used and sold drugs such as heroin and crack cocaine.

Cowen and Weller recalled watching a man who kept stabbing himself with a needle in search of a vein that wasn’t collapsed so he could shoot up heroin.

“He actually had to pull down his pants and stab himself in the thigh to find a vein,” Cowen said. “What (drugs) control, the power it has really baffled me.”

The teenagers were also surprised that many of the drug users were willing to talk about how they became addicted and of the family and careers they have since lost.

“They don’t like their lives and they want to help someone,” Cowen said. “They know we’re the ones relaying it to the youth.”

Insp. Ray Noble of the Red Deer RCMP said the RCMP/Hockey Drug Squad program started about 15 years ago as a way to have role models in the community educate young people about the dangers of drug use.

“The most effective place to intervene is before they become involved in drugs,” he said.

Rebels assistant coach Chris Neiszner said the hockey organization was one of the first to become involved in the program.

Rebel players are sent to Vancouver annually and those selected to participate are chosen strictly by age — they must be 18- or 19-years-old.

Neiszner took part in the program when he played for the Rebels in 2003-2004 and said the experience is “etched in memory.”

Head coach Jesse Wallin and assistant coach Bryce Thoma also both participated in the program when they played for the team.

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