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Recovering addict grabs students' attention


Eight years ago, David Parnell was in an ambulance on Interstate 40 to Nashville, Tenn., after he shot off much of his face.

On Monday, eight years to the day after that botched suicide attempt, Parnell was on the same interstate headed to New Mexico to give speeches about substance abuse prevention.

His presentation is called "Facing the Dragon." It's a bloody, graphic slide show and discussion.

Most San Juan County high school students will see Parnell's presentation this week.

It includes dozens of pictures of drug addicts who killed or mutilated themselves, a New Mexico toddler who starved to death in a closet while his parents were high and a close-up of a little girl whose lips burned off during a meth-lab explosion.

Teenagers can't see the negative effects of addiction too often, Parnell said.

"I try to just be real with the kids and not hold anything back from them and show them the reality of drug use," he said. "Let them see what can happen. I think that helps."

Parnell spoke to students at Farmington, Piedra Vista, Rocinante and Navajo Prep high school students Tuesday.

He will visit Bloomfield and Shiprock high schools today and Aztec and Kirtland Central high schools Friday.

He will give three speeches to oil and natural gas employees at Animas 10 Theaters on Thursday.

He also is sharing his story at 6:30 p.m. Friday at the Farmington Civic Center.

The event is free and there will be a question-and-answer session following the presentation.

Parnell is a recovering meth addict from Tennessee. He spent time in prison, tried to kill himself twice and has watched relatives ruin their lives with drugs.

The crime scene photos taken moments after Parnell shot himself under his chin are almost always included in his slide show when he visits schools. His face remains disfigured from the injury and he still needs reconstructive surgeries.

"The kids want to know why I look funny to them," he said.

Most San Juan County teenagers do not use meth or other drugs. Slightly more than 50 percent of county teenagers have tried marijuana, 36 percent drink and 6 percent have tried meth, according to the most recent health department behavior surveys. But Parnell said it's always appropriate to talk to teens about addiction.

"It's more important" if they are not using drugs, he said.

"It's not a rehab that we're trying to run, it's a prevention program," he said. "So if you want a successful prevention program you want to start your prevention before they are using."

He is scheduled to speak 11 times in San Juan County this week.

Parnell has authored books and travels internationally to talk to people about how his faith helped him take back control of his life and reconnect with his family after he hit rock bottom.

"It was pretty scary seeing all those pictures," said April Hurlbut, a 15-year-old freshman at Piedra Vista.

Hurlbut said the presentation is worthwhile for teenagers, even those who don't use drugs or alcohol, "so they don't use drugs when they are older or keep using right now."

San Juan Rotary's "Don't Meth With Us" program funded Parnell's school visits. Farmington City Councilman Jason Sandel's company, Aztec Well Servicing, is funding the talks to oil and natural gas company employees and the Rotary Club and San Juan Safe Communities Initiative are hosting the Friday presentation.

The Rotary Club's anti-meth program was started five years ago. Its message is directed to middle and high school students in hopes of preventing substance abuse issues later in life, said Jill McQueary, a club member involved with the program.

About 1,800 students listened to Parnell on Tuesday and at least another 2,000 students will hear him speak throughout the week, McQueary said.

"I think David tells it like it is, he's been there," she said. "He can tell the real story and I think it's good for these kids to hear it. ... People, especially teenagers, should hear how addictive these drugs are."

The Daily Times
By Ryan Boetel
February 23, 2011