Man tells schoolies of dangers

IT WAS the worst night of his life.

Michael Buttenshaw was in party mode. He drank bourbon, smoked cannabis, and drove his friend’s car without a licence.

At the end of the night, two teenage girls were dead and Michael was in a coma in Lismore Base Hospital.

Michael’s car crash was 15 years ago but it is a timely reminder to the estimated 20,000 young people about to descend on Byron Bay for schoolies celebrations in the next two weeks.

More than 3000 North Coast Year 10 students will hear Michael’s tragic story as part of the Reduce Risk, Increase Student Knowledge (RRISK) program at Southern Cross University this week. The students yesterday gave him an emotional standing ovation

The massive brain injury Michael sustained the night of the crash left him barely able to speak and his talk was delivered through PowerPoint slides on a large screen.

The 35-year-old’s final words before he left the stage in his wheelchair were: “Don’t be as stupid as I was. Use you head before you act.”

The RRISK program focuses on making choices and planning ahead during a night out. The message is: Don’t get in the car with someone who is drunk, plan to go home another way. It could save your life.

“You can kill yourself at the click of your fingers,” Michael told TheNorthern Star.

Tragedies involving young people have dominated headlines in the past few years, including the 11 seconds it took to change the life of a P-plate driver and four of his friends after a car he was driving struck a tree on Broken Head Road near Byron in 2006.

The four young passengers died and the driver will spend at least two years in jail.

While it was found in court the driver had not been under the influence, the dangerous mix of new drivers, alcohol and drugs could prove to be a volatile cocktail when schoolies descend on Byron Bay later this week.

As reported in The Northern Star previously, Byron Bay police plan to use drug detection dogs and to have a zero tolerance to any anti-social behaviour.

There will be a ‘safety hub’ run by Byron Schoolies Safety Response Working Group where advice, information and a ‘no alcohol’ zone will be available to the young crowds.

According to RRISK keynote speaker Paul Dillon, of Drug and Alcohol Research and Training Australia, 800 young people die every year from alcohol related incidents.

Choking on their own vomit was the major cause of alcohol related deaths for girls while intoxicated boys died from alcohol poisoning, where they passed out and never woke, or through alcohol-related violence.

Mr Dillon said cannabis and alcohol use was currently at its lowest level for Year 10 students but that the trend to drink spirits, and in particular vodka because it could be hidden, was cause for great concern.

“We have huge chunks of kids who don’t drink or drink responsibly, but the high risk group get the media’s attention because they start earlier and drink more, more often,” he said.

While the focus was on young people, Mr Dillon said the acceptance of public drunkenness in Australia should be a community concern.

“Maybe we need a RRISK program for parents,” he said.

The program concludes at Lismore on Thursday, but Michael Buttenshaw’s story will resonate with teenagers much longer.

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