Personal stories show impact of drug addiction

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(Posted Sept. 17, 2017)

By Dedra Cordle, Staff Writer

They are stories of the “before” and the “after.”

In the before, a young girl beams while holding her father’s hand, eager for a night of trick-or-treating.

In the before, the young man poses in his football uniform, pride apparent in his stance.

In the before, the teenage boy with wild hair half-smiles, half-laughs in his yearbook photo.

These were their happier moments, ones these individuals’ families are now sharing to try to keep others away from their “after.”

In the after, the beaming girl is a young woman whose body is dumped and left for dead on the side of the road.

In the after, the proud football player is pronounced dead after being administered 12 doses of Narcan.

In the after, the laughing teen is slumped over the side of a bed in a dingy room, lifeless after packets of drugs he had shoved up his rectum ruptured.

The after, the surviving family members told Madison County Coroner James Kaehr, is something they struggle with every day. They relayed how heart-wrenching it was to witness their loved ones slip further into drug addiction and to know they will have no more good moments.

When Kaehr asked one day if these families would be willing to share their pain and memories with the public, there was little hesitation.

“These are families who have suffered greatly, and all they want is to save or spare others,” Kaehr said.

In their mission to save lives, the families agreed to release photographs, the pleasant and the graphic, of their daughters, sons, sisters and brothers, as a part of a drug prevention presentation that is traveling to high schools across Madison County. The first presentation took place Sept. 8 at West Jefferson High School.

The program, which began to develop 15 months ago, was spearheaded by Madison County Common Pleas Court Judge Eamon Costello after he became frustrated by what he was witnessing in the courtroom.

A majority of the cases he handles are perpetrated by those who are addicted to drugs, primarily opiates.

“Eighty to 90 percent of property crimes in the county are carried out by those who have an opiate addiction,” he said.

In talking to the people involved in these crimes, Costello discovered that for most, their substance abuse issues started around the age of 13 when they were first introduced to pain pills.

Wanting to stop others from going down the path he sees taken by so many, Costello sought the assistance of Kaehr, who also shares his frustration over the opioid epidemic.

“He saw wave after wave of cases, and I saw wave after wave of dead bodies,” Kaehr said.

With additional assistance from law enforcement and mental health officials, Costello and Kaehr began to lay out how they wanted to get their message across to teens who might be tempted to experiment with drugs, or maybe even those who are or who see it taking place in their households.

“What I didn’t want this presentation to be was a ‘scared straight’ presentation,” said Costello.

The program collaborators also didn’t want to it be just a statistics based presentation or a sanitized one.

With most of the presentation drafted, they enlisted the help of those most deeply affected by addiction – the surviving family of those who have died.

“They were a critical component to this presentation, and it was an act of faith and courage by them to allow us to share these stories,” Costello said.

Though most of the families relayed their stories off camera, Tonia Redmond sat down for a videotaped conversation about her brother Marcus, a former London High School football player who died this past January from a heroin overdose.

Like so many others who have been touched by the opioid epidemic, she recounted how for Marcus it began with one pain pill, then many, then other drugs once that supply was severed.

Marcus went to rehab many times, she said, but he relapsed just as often.

She spoke of how happy he was growing up, how he was always ready with a joke, a smile or a helping hand. Once he became addicted, she said, he was like a completely different person.

“Addiction alters your brain,” she said. “It changes who you are.”

Kaehr backed up Redmond’s statement with scientific imagery that shows how drugs eat away the healthy tissue of the brain’s frontal lobe.

The hour-long presentation shown at West Jefferson was fact-based and emotional. Officials shared data on addiction – according to Kaehr, the cure rate for heroin addiction is 10 to 15 percent – and loved ones shared happy and heartbreaking memories of their deceased family members.

In a message to the students, Redmond said that relaying her story and her pain was worth it if it could change just one mind.

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