Once when trying to buy cocaine as an undercover drug agent, Bob Stutman was offered a white crystalline powder that looked just like the real thing.

It acted like the real thing, too, when he rubbed it on his wrist and it numbed his skin. So he handed the drug dealer $8,000.

It turned out to be d-CON rat poison.

Stutman, a federal Drug Enforcement Agent for 25 years, told the story Thursday to more than 600 sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders at a Sacajawea Middle School assembly.

A lab test revealed the d-CON deception. Though he got a lot of ribbing from fellow agents, Stutman retold the story because it teaches a powerful lesson: If you use street drugs, there's no way of knowing what you're really putting in your body.

"If that had been you, you would have stuck it up your nose," Stutman told students. "In three minutes, you would have been dead."

Now retired and in his 60s, Stutman worked for five years as an undercover agent, made 500 drug buys personally and oversaw the seizure of tons of drugs as special agent in charge of the New York field division. The Colombian drug cartel put out a contract on his life, said Joe Moriarty, vice principal. Stutman has appeared on Oprah Winfrey's show, been a CBS and PBS news consultant and advised on movies starring Denzel Washington.

Stutman is speaking this week and next to students and parents in Bozeman and Belgrade. The public can hear him Tuesday at Bozeman's Willson Auditorium, Wednesday at Belgrade Middle School and Thursday at Belgrade's Special Events Center, all starting at 7 p.m.

The talks coincide with Red Ribbon Week, which was started to honor DEA agent Kiki Camarena, killed in 1985 by Mexican drug traffickers. Stutman called him a good friend.

Stutman asked Sacajawea students how many knew someone who had ever used "shrooms," or hallucinogenic psilocybin mushrooms. About a third raised their hands.

He told them that 80 percent of the shrooms seized last year are actually grocery store mushrooms that have been toasted and laced with 11 cents worth of LSD, because that's far cheaper than the real thing.

LSD is the strongest hallucinogen known, he said. Flashbacks - in which one can suddenly lose contact with reality for 10 to 30 seconds -- can recur for years, creating a hazard for anyone driving.

Cocaine and methamphetamine do essentially the same thing to your body, Stutman said. Both make users feel hyper. Users often feel like Superman and become paranoid, which can lead to fighting and violence against spouses or children, he said.

Cocaine and meth are the most addictive drugs in the country, he said. Of people who use them for four months and then try to stop, 80 percent find they cannot quit.

Alcohol, although legal, is the second most addictive drug in the country, he said. About 12 percent of adults become alcoholics. But of kids who start drinking at age 15 or younger, 40 percent become alcoholics.

Marijuana today is a far stronger drug than 15 years ago, Stutman said. For some people it's as addicting as alcohol.

Yet the No. 1 most popular drugs today among young people are "pharming" or prescription pharmaceuticals, Stutman said.

"More kids are taking pills than smoking grass," he said.

The two most popular prescription drugs abused in Montana are Adderall and Ritalin, which are beneficial when prescribed to people with attention deficit disorder. But when used as recreational drugs, they're like cocaine or meth, he said. Extremely addicting, they can cause heart attacks and death.

The third most often abused prescription drug is Oxycontin. Adults with prescriptions often leave bottles in the medicine cabinet. Kids get the pills, crush them, and get a dose that "hits like a freight train," he said.

Stutman said the reason he travels the country talking to kids about drugs goes back to the time a friend asked him to speak to his 14-year-old son, who was into drugs. Stutman said the boy screamed at him, "‘Get off my back - I know what I'm doing.'"

Seven months later, he saw the boy in a bus station bathroom, in a toilet stall, dead of an overdose, with a needle in his arm, foam at his mouth.

Stutman said he's trying to reach those kids who haven't made up their minds yet about drugs.

"Here's what scares me," Stutman said. "A lot of you are going to believe your friends. There are young men and women who are going to end up dead or worse than dead because they make bad decisions. I've never met a kid who said, ‘I want to become a drug addict, I want to become a junkie.'"

After the assembly, Stutman said that overall in America, there are fewer drug users than 15 years ago. But the number of addicts has almost doubled because they're starting younger, at ages 12 and 13, and the drugs are more powerful.

Principal Gordon Grissom said Stutman's talk was "incredibly valuable." Some students have already been exposed to drugs and as they get older, more will be making decisions about whether to try them, Grissom said. "His information allows them to make wise choices."

Gail Schontzler can be reached at gails@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.