Ace looks like any one of hundreds of Salt Lake-area teenagers you might see roaming State Street on a Friday night. His hair is long and his clothes are unkempt. On his face is a light goatee, more peach fuzz than whisker. And in his eye is a look - that look: dull, vacant, lifeless.
Ace is high. He admits it freely, even brags about it. "I like the feeling," he says openly. "I went straight for 18 months and I didn't get no natural high. Now I'm doing drugs again and I like it."Ace is one of six area teens - outspoken drug users all - who appear this weekend on KTVX's hourlong "For Kids' Sake" special, Straight Talk (Saturday at 5 p.m., Ch. 4). Anchored by Phil Riesen and Kimberly Perkins, the special presents "straight talk" about drugs and teen drug use by users and former users, parents and social workers.
Most of the former users and parents are from local substance abuse programs like Dayspring. Sitting in the KTVX studio with Riesen and Perkins, they talk about their feelings and experiences and share some of the tricks of drug abuse (such as hiding drugs in stuffed animals or in the last place parents would look - Mom and Dad's bedroom).
"I was able to hide it from my parents because they didn't want to see it," one young woman declares.
Also on hand is Dayspring's Lou Hancock, who shares some startling statistics about drug abuse in Utah. Among his claims:
- 60 percent of all Utah teens have tried alcohol;
- 36 percent of them have smoked marijuana;
- 12 percent have tried cocaine;
- Among kids who use drugs, most had their first experience with drugs before they turned 13.
"A lot of these kids are good, church-going kids who have just gone totally out of control," Hancock said. "In fact, we've found that when the straight, religious kids get into drugs they tend to go harder and faster than the others."
Outside the studio somewhere, Ace and five of his friends are sitting on a stone wall and being questioned by KTVX's Sheila Hamilton. Riesen asks "How many of you are stoned right now?" Five raise their hands.
Ace says he's been using drugs since he was 6, and that now he takes something five or six times a day. Angie says she's been on drugs since the fourth grade, and confirms Ace's claim that it's easy to get drugs on the street even if you're broke. But the most chilling message is delivered by Stretch during one of the show's many interesting exchanges between the users and ex-users.
"If I wanna do drugs I'm gonna do drugs," Stretch says cavalierly. "I don't give a (deleted). We're all gonna die sometime."
In the end, the former users seem more committed to sobriety, while the users seem as hardened as ever. This isn't a show for answers or solutions. But it's a good show for questions and thought-provoking discussion - especially if parents will watch it with their kids and then talk about it afterwards.
You should be aware, however, that the language is uncensored. And it's frustrating to watch the users knowing that, as one ex-user promises, "two or three of you are going to end up dead in some gutter."
But this is an issue that requires something more than broad brush strokes and superficialities. It's the most pressing social problem facing America today, and it begs for the kind of tough, caring approach KTVX has taken. If you want kids to be straight you have to give them straight information - and that's the real bottom line on "Straight Talk."