Gail Draheim recalled her son’s death in October 2004 at age 23 from drug use during a community drug forum Thursday night attended by more than 100 people at Whitman-Hanson Regional High School. She was just one of many people who talked about the impact of drug use on students.

Joe Draheim of Hanson was not a punk. The Whitman-Hanson Regional High School alumnus, who graduated in 1999, was a good kid, kind and compassionate.

And he was an addict.

So says his mother, Gail Draheim, who recalled her son’s death in October 2004 at age 23 from drug use during a community drug forum Thursday night attended by more than 100 people at Whitman-Hanson Regional High School.

“My son never got to really live life before it ended,” she said.

Draheim, who moved to Braintree from Hanson in 2007, said her son was addicted to OxyContin pills, and his addiction escalated to using heroin.

“He was a good kid. He made a bad decision,” she said.

“He had just gotten out of rehab for the third time. This was a four-month rehab, and he tried it one more time,” she said. “And one more time was one too many, and I don’t have him with me now.”

Joe Draheim caught hepatitis C from using heroin, and he died after just five months of using the drug of acute opiate intoxication, his mother said.

“Kids need to know, if they try it, they could die from it,” she said.

“It’s real and parents need to be made aware of it,” she said. “And you need to talk to your kids about it, and you need to follow through with it and not pretend that it doesn’t exist, because it happens everywhere.”

According to the state OxyContin and Heroin Commission, 3,265 Massachusetts residents died from opiate-related overdoses from 2002 to 2007, around 42 times as many as the 78 Massachusetts soldiers who died in Afghanistan and Iraq during the same five-year period.

Hanson School Resource Officer Peter Calogero said students say they use drugs out of curiosity, because it feels good, to reduce stress, fit in and because of peer pressure.

“The average age that a child first experiments with drugs is the age of 14,” Calogero said.

“The drug of choice is changing,” he said. “Instead of marijuana, youth are turning to prescription medications and even heroin.”

Whitman-Hanson Regional High School Assistant Principal Sheryl Wade said students who use drugs and drink alcohol in school face stiff penalties, including exclusion from school functions and graduation ceremonies and even expulsion.

Nevertheless, alcohol and drug use among students, and drug-related crimes, is still a problem, she said.

“We do not think our students are using; we know they are. But we are here to work with you to help stop it,” she said.

Wade said she has lost five of her former students to drug-related deaths in the past five years.

“We have had students who have come to school high on marijuana. We have found marijuana packaged and ready for distribution on students. We have found smaller amounts as well,” Wade said.

“We have found Ativan wrapped and ready for distribution on the floor of the bathrooms,” she said. “Students have brought alcohol to school in soda bottles and one who didn’t even bother to do that, and I found the bottle in the hallway.”

Wade said school officials continue to get tips about drug use from students who tell guidance counselors in person or who call an anonymous tip line.

“Former students have come back and told us that they have been in jail or rehab as a result of drug use that began in high school,” she said.

Wade said teachers are trained to recognize signs that a student may be using, or distributing, drugs.

She said all students must submit to a Breathalyzer test before entering school functions, and that they are saying peer pressure to drink and use drugs is strong.

“Even our best students give in,” she said.

Wade said there has been an increase in the theft of personal and school property throughout the school.

“And these thefts are getting more bold,” she said.

“Just a week-and-a-half ago before Thanksgiving, we had a classroom that moved across the hall. The classroom door was left open, and students went into that classroom and stole three wallets out of pocketbooks, one of whose was the teacher and it was under her desk,” she said.

Wade and Whitman-Hanson Regional High School Assistant Principal David Floeck organized Thursday’s forum. The regional school district is posting video of the presentation and a blog on its Web site, www.whrsd.org.

The Enterprise