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Teen-Agers Hear Tales of Drugs, Alcohol, Suicide

Times Staff Writer

Marianne Romero was the teen-ager all parents dream about--straight-A student, president of half the clubs at her high school, cheerleader, Miss Popularity. The overachiever pleased everyone but herself. As the pressure mounted, food became her escape.

Debbie Green had the talent, the confidence, and the ambition to make it big. The well-to-do, Brandeis-educated Westwood girl instead became a West Hollywood street bum with a $500-a-day cocaine habit.

Romero and Green told their stories to about 300 Orange County high school students Saturday in a countywide conference called “Taking Charge” at an Orange hotel.

The speakers, who were chosen and invited by the students, addressed four problems many teens directly or indirectly face: teen sexuality, drugs and alcohol abuse, eating disorders and suicide.

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The conference was modeled after one held in Kansas City last year. Local high school students organized the event, tailoring it to their needs, with the help of Planned Parenthood-Orange County.

“It’s going great,” said a satisfied Keith Kline, 16, a junior at Corona del Mar High School and a member of the planning committee. “A lot of people showed up.”

While the consensus among the students was that the information gathered at the conference was useful--particularly on the teen-age taboo subject of suicide--what impressed them most were the first-person stories from Romero and Green.

“It’s hard to educate on alcohol and drugs because statistics are so boring, it’s much better when they tell you a story you can relate to,” Paul Campos, an Esperanza High junior, said as he smoked a cigarette in the conference hall between workshops.

“Yeah, you could really relate to (the speakers),” agreed classmate Paul Lucas. “It helped me refresh my memory.”

In the conference room, Green recalled her schemes to support her expensive habit, including her drug-smuggling trips to Panama and her “hospital-shopping” trip when she decided to go straight four years ago.

She finally chose a program run by a counselor who was an ex-opium addict. “I looked at his eyes and I saw another addict,” she told her audience. “I knew I could trust him, relate to him.”

Amy Buch, 25, the Orange County Planned Parenthood counselor responsible for putting the conference together, was all smiles as scores of enthusiastic participants darted in and out of workshops or gathered in groups outside the conference rooms to discuss what they had just heard.

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“It’s really exciting,” she said. “We’ve been planning this for six months . . . it’s finally happened!”

The conference, as Buch pointed out, gave the students the chance to exchange ideas and speak openly about sensitive issues in a non-threatening environment. And more important, she said, “it’s a way of letting (teen-agers) know that somebody cares about them, and that help is available.”


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