(FLORENCE, AZ) - A standing-room-only crowd gathered to celebrate the winners of the annual Anti-Drug Poster Contest.
The awards ceremony for the 32nd Annual Anti-Drug Poster Contest, put on by the Pinal County Attorney's Office, took place Thursday night at Florence High School.
"This is really an opportunity to celebrate," said County Attorney Kent Volkmer.
Families and friends gathered to support the students who made it to the Top-40. Nearly 800 sixth-grade students from across Pinal County submitted entries this year. Those were then whittled down to the Top-10, with three Pinal County Superior Court Judges picking the posters with the best message, best artwork, and the best overall.
The annual Anti-Drug Poster Contest is dedicated to the memory of Judge Robert Bean.
"What he realized is that sixth graders, as they transition into middle school, start getting exposed to things, they start having to make difficult decisions," Volkmer said. "He wanted to create an opportunity for sixth graders to reflect on choices they were going to make."
Volkmer told the crowd about 50% of all felony prosecutions include drug possession, drug sale, and drug transportation.
"About 85% of our crime can be tied specifically to substance use," Volkmer said.
Volkmer expressed hope that the families and students in attendance will use the lessons learned throughout the poster contest and will avoid drug use, while also encouraging others to do the same.
"My hope is that...we can address this," Volkmer said.
One of the speakers also included Misty Terrigino, whose daughter, 17-year-old Kaylie Tallant, died in April of last year after unknowingly ingesting a pill containing fentanyl.
"Kaylie was fearless, she was adventurous, she was my best friend," Terrigino said.
Terrigino said since the incident she learned her daughter had obtained what she thought was a Percocet via a social media app. She found her daughter unconscious inside her bedroom.
"I opened the door, along with her brother, and my daughter was sleeping, forever sleeping in her bed, laying on her bed, her laptop open," Terrigino said.
Terrigino later discovered the pill contained fentanyl. She hopes her daughter's death sparks important conversations among other families about the prevalence of fentanyl and how easy it is to obtain.
"Parents I need you to listen," Terrigino said. "The drug landscape has changed...social media has allowed direct access to our children."
Terrigino encouraged parents to not make the mistake of thinking this won't ever happen to their kids.
"If you would have told me 18 months ago that I would be standing in front of you ..telling you that I lost my only daughter, I would never have believed you," she said.
Volkmer echoed the sentiment and encouraged families to have multiple, repeated short conversations with their kids about drugs to ensure the message sticks.
Volkmer praised the students in attendance for their participation in the poster contest and for helping raise awareness about drugs.
"You have the opportunity to save peoples' lives," Volkmer said. "You have the opportunity to make our community a better place."
BEST OVERALL - Raya Lau / Eduprize
BEST MESSAGE - Jessie Trent / ALA Anthem
BEST ARTWORK - Teagan Parry / Eduprize