CLARKSBURG, W.Va. (WBOY) — The Elks Association brought its national Drug Awareness Program to Harrison County this week. The first stop of the week was United High School in Clarksburg, where the organization sent national speaker Ray Lozano to share information on the dangers of several different drugs with its students.

“The Elks Drug Awareness Program is super important because it’s like the only program left that’s all volunteer-based,” Lozano said, adding that back in the 80s, anti-drug organizations such as D.A.R.E. and Just Say No would make visits to schools and speak with students but have since stopped. “The Elks are pretty much the only organization that are still out there talking to kids about not doing drugs and alcohol.”

This speaking event took place in the morning, consisting of two back-to-back sessions with the same subject matter. In each session, the students in attendance learned about how addictive certain drugs are, such as nicotine, which is commonly smoked by teenagers through e-cigarettes and vapes, as well as discussing fentanyl, marijuana and alcohol.

Lozano said he feels as though drug usage is a concern throughout the U.S., which is why his organization sends him all across the country for these speaking engagements. He traveled to California last week, Arkansas the week prior and is gearing up to make a trip to Alaska in a couple of weeks.

“Everywhere I go it’s the same problem, and kids are all vaping or they’re all using marijuana,” Lozano said, adding that from his experience, he found that many teenagers had received a lot of misinformation and held theories that weren’t true. This is why he held Q&A sessions after he was finished speaking to give students a chance to address anything that they were unclear about as it pertained to certain recreational drugs.

During his presentations, Lozano used personal examples from his family and home life to further enforce some of his points made. These examples were used to explain to students some of the consequences behind drug abuse, how the brain works, and how the brain reacts to chemicals in some of these substances.

“My hope is when students walk out of the room, number one, they know how addictive nicotine is ’cause that’s the big one right now with electronic cigarettes,” Lozano said. He told 12 News that he also believes there’s a connection between vaping and drug use in teenagers.

A common way for vaping to subsequently result in drug usage, according to Lozano, is through the use of THC vapes. He said that if a teenager who vapes spends time with friends who also vape, they may get offered a THC vaping device, introducing them to marijuana.

“I don’t wanna say every kid that, you know, uses harder drugs started off with vaping,” Lozano said. “But yeah, there’s that element there of just somebody bringing in something new or trying something new, and that’s where the danger of moving onto harder drugs happens.”

Lozano also wanted students to know more about the addictive qualities of fentanyl “and how fentanyl goes in and it hits the pleasure part of the brain” from the information in his presentation. He said he hoped to get students “on the other side of addiction.”

“If we can get these kids to age 22-23 without using, more than likely, they’ll live a substance-free life,” Lozano said. In order to make this a possibility, Lozano emphasized the importance of staying up-to-date with the latest information as it pertains to different drugs, then making sure that he’s able to present it in a memorable way.

“None of the kids were talking, all of them were focused on me,” Lozano said. “They were laughing, they were raising their hands, they were participating, and they weren’t talking. And that’s, believe it or not, a real art to be able to do that.”

Throughout the week, Lozano plans to bring the Elks’ Drug Awareness Program to all of the middle and high schools in Harrison County. Elks Lodge #2875 is hosting a meet and greet dinner Monday night for people in the community to meet Ray Lozano.

The dinner will begin with a social from 5-6 p.m., with the actual dinner taking place at 6 p.m., to be followed by a presentation at 7 p.m. Lozano will also be stopping by Robert C. Byrd High School at 6 p.m. on Sept. 19 to participate in a public forum. This forum will be open to adults in the community that have questions as it relates to drug addiction and how it may potentially affect their teenagers.