On Monday, March 9, the Darien Library, Darien Youth Commission, Darien Depot, the YWCA, and the Community Fund of Darien sponsored a film screening and panel discussion of the 35 minute documentary titled “If They Had Known.”

Before the film started, Co-chairs of Darien’s Thriving Youth Task Force Shelly Skoglund and James Palmieri thanked everyone for coming to the screening in the Community Room. They shared several statistics from the student survey all students in Darien Public Schools are required to take every four years; the most recent results came from 2017.

The scariest statistic stated that more than one third of Darien’s High School students (grades 9-12) had reported binge drinking in the past 30 days; 45% of students reported this to be exact.

In addition, 18% of Darien High School students reported taking a prescription medication that was not theirs.

“If They Had Known” revolves around the true story of Clay Soper’s death by mixing prescription drugs and alcohol. Darien programs deemed it important to share this story for educational purposes for Darien youth.

Clay Soper grew up in Winchester, Massachusetts, an affluent suburb outside of Boston. Soper played three sports, had a great group of friends, and a supportive family.

During his first summer vacation home from the University of Denver, Clay, unknowingly, created a lethal mix at a small party with his friends: Xanax and liquor.

After slurring his words and showing other signs of intoxication, Clay’s friends moved him into the upstairs bedroom to sleep for the night. They did not expect the consequences that would follow that decision.

“It was way to casual of a night for our friend to die” stated one of Soper’s peers. “Nobody processed he was as f***** up as he was,” another stated.

Xanax falls under the umbrella drug term of Benzodiazepines, that serve as tranquilizers and are often prescribed to individuals suffering with anxiety or epilepsy.

Sober, in addition to his friends, did not know enough about this medication when making the decision to mix it.

Benzodiazepines are classified as depressant drugs: drugs that reduce functional or nervous activity. Alcohol is also a depressant.

According to the American Addiction Center, mixing these two drugs that serve the same purpose results in an “enhancement of both drugs.”

The American Addiction Center also states that “The amount of alcohol that can lead to an overdose is significantly reduced when one drinks alcohol with benzodiazepines, and the dose of benzodiazepine that can result in overdose is significantly reduced as a result of taking the drug with alcohol.”

If only they had known.

Another peer of Soper stated, “It’s reality. It can happen to you or me or anybody else at any given point.”

His brother, Ted Soper, closed the documentary stating, “ We created this documentary to start a conversation. Now it is up to you to continue it.”

In an attempt to continue the conversation, Emily Larkin, a leader of the Thriving Youth Task forced introduced three panel speakers to answer any questions any viewers developed, in addition to prewritten questions written out by Darien’s Youth Asset Team club.

The panel was moderated by John Hamilton, CEO at liberation programs and expert in drug addiction prevention. The panelists included Luke Robbins, Counseling Director at the Rowan Center, Mia Handler, Director of Psychiatry at Silver Hill Hospital, and Buck Allen, current junior at Sewanee University in Tennessee, and member of the DHS class of 2017.

All four contributing members helped viewers understand the effects of prescription drugs mixed with alcohol. They also offered multiple perspectives.

Handler was able to identify the different effects of different drug types when mixed with alcohol: depressants, stimulants, and more.

Allen gave advice to the students in the room, stating how his party tactic is to tell whoever offers him that substance that he has a test tomorrow.

Robbins later added that he hopes conversations like this continue so that in the future, excuses don’t even need to be made. He hopes one day it will be socially acceptable to just say “no”.

Robbins also shared that he lost two friends to substance abuse. In college, one peer of his passed away after falling off the roof of an academic building at his respected school.

He addressed our common tendency to humorize drunk mistakes. At what point do we be concerned?

He stated, “Its funny until it’s no longer funny. And when it’s no longer funny, it’s too late.” Don’t be afraid to say something.

For more information, visit iftheyhadknown.com.

Lily Genovese is a senior at Darien High School and a frequent contributor to The Darien Times.