Gainesville High School students were given an overview of the most pressing issues in public safety Thursday as part of the Georgia Board of Public Safety's monthly meeting.
Each year the board holds one of its meeting at a high school in the state and Jon Canada, a member of the board and Gainesville Fire chief, volunteered Gainesville High School.
The meeting was held in the school's Performing Arts Center with several classes in attendance.
Gov. Nathan Deal serves as the board's chairman, but in his absence, Ellison Woods served as vice chairman during Thursday's meeting.
Along with Canada, Hall County Sheriff Steve Cronic and Kacy Cronan, vice president of operations and sales for Gainesville Salvage and Disposal, serve on the board.
Harris Blackwood, director of the Governor's Office of Highway Safety, spoke to the students about the office's efforts to reduce fatal wrecks in the state.
In 2010, 1,247 people were killed in wrecks in Georgia - a figure Blackwood said is too high.
"We're doing everything in our power — working with (Georgia State Patrol) and local police agencies — to make these roads as safe as possible," he said. "We want to bring that number down. The goal is zero."
GSP Col. Mark McDonough, also the commissioner of public safety for the state, stressed the importance of making smart choices while driving.
He said the leading cause of death among high school age students is car wrecks and he attributes that to poor choices.
McDonough gave an example of a 17-year-old boy and his girlfriend who were killed in a wreck last week in Rabun County. The boy, who he said may have been drunk and wasn't wearing a seat belt, was driving 45 mph in reverse on a curvy road.
"He hit a bank and was partially ejected," he said. "He's dead. He was crushed by his own automobile goofing off, because of poor choices."
McDonough also asked what is the most commonly used drug among high school students and the consensus among the students was marijuana.
However, prescription drugs have become the most commonly used drugs among that age group.
"The problem in society is nobody is telling you it's wrong," he said. "I'm telling you right now if you're taking a drug without prescription, if you're smoking dope, if you're drinking alcohol, you're wrong and it's a poor choice and it's part of what's going to get you killed."
Georgia Department of Corrections Commissioner Brian Owens also addressed the students on the importance of making wise choices, so they don't find themselves in jail.
"I would encourage you not to make a split second decision that will affect you the rest of your life," Owens said.
Many students were surprised to hear that the youngest inmates in state prisons are 13-years-old.
"I cannot tell you how many times in your adult prison system I see people just like you who are good folks and were influenced to make a bad decision," Owens said. "They're not separated from the 30, 40, 50-year-old guys. They're right in the same prison system with them."
Another issue state law officials are concerned with is the growing use of synthetic drugs including spice and bath salts.
"They're sold legally because there's a lot of loopholes built into the way that they're manufactured," said Vernon Keenan, director of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
"But they are very, very dangerous and I'm getting calls from across the state of Georgia asking issues about the synthetic marijuana that is sold under different names," he added.
Nell Miles is the manager of the bureau's Chemistry Section and said, "The laboratory has been infiltrated with these synthetic marijuana cases."
Miles said companies are targeting youth and are marketing the drugs as plant food or herbal incense.
"These spice compounds mimic the effects of marijuana," she said. "In fact, it's been reported that some of the potency levels are 10-100 times more potent than marijuana, so we have a problem here."
Bath salts are intended to mimic the effects of cocaine and methamphetamine and are also marketed as plant food or research chemicals, Miles said.
Companies that manufacture the synthetic drugs, Miles said, have avoided legislation banning the drugs by creating variants.
"We know they have adverse reactions, we know it's a problem, but how do you deal with the problem?" she asked.
Even though the drugs haven't been studied in depth, Miles said bath salts and spice have been reported to cause hallucinating, increased body temperature, agitated behavior and memory loss.
"Just because you can buy it in the stores, you can get it off the Internet and there are no limitations doesn't mean it is good for you," she said. "What's really scary about these drugs is that kids are not scared of it and that's what makes it so dangerous."
Also at the meeting, Blackwood made an early announcement that the Georgia State Patrol and the Gainesville Police Department will be nationally recognized as being among the best agencies in the U.S.
Georgia State Patrol, he said, will be honored as the best state police agency in the country during the International Association of Chiefs of Police Highway Safety Awards Banquet in Chicago later this month.
Last month, Gainesville Police Department placed first in the Governor's Challenge in September and will be recognized as the best agency of it's size in the country during the banquet.