Sadness, heartache and pictures of Johnson County residents who died too young filled a Franklin Community High School classroom.
The sadness is permanent. The heartache is unbearable. And that’s why parents who have lost children to drug abuse got together in a community forum on Wednesday. Their mission is to try and educate other parents and students about the dangers of drugs.
The panel consisted of three parents, Johnson County Sheriff Doug Cox, State Sen. Jim Merritt and representatives from Students Against Destructive Decisions and Communities That Care. They shared their stories and information about the dangers of synthetic drugs and the growing popularity of heroin.
Jeanine Motsay introduced the panel and then sat quietly in front of a picture of her son, Sam, a Center Grove High School student who died on Mother’s Day last year after using a synthetic drug called N-Bomb. This is the third forum she helped organize since her son’s death. Last year, three months after her son died, about 300 people came to the first forum. This week, 28 came.
Her goal is to reach as many parents as she can. And that’s why Motsay continues her campaign to educate parents with testimonies, her story and forums on behalf of Sam and the organization Sam’s Watch, which is focused on outreach, awareness and education efforts.
“When Sam passed away, we saw the gap in information for students and parents. That brought to me a way that his passing could be life-giving to somebody else. We’ve lost our child. We can’t change that, but we can change the future,” she said.
Heroin and synthetic drugs are becoming a bigger threat each day, officials said.
Johnson County law enforcement agencies recently joined six others across the state in training to use and carrying Narcan, a drug that reverses the effects of an overdose on narcotic drugs, such as heroin. A New Whiteland police officer and a Trafalgar police officer have successfully administered the drug.
“When police officers have to carry Narcan, it tells you this is a real problem,” Sheriff Doug Cox said. “The drug that killed Jeanine’s son, not only do we still see that, we are seeing other illegal synthetic drugs.”
Cox had to knock on Motsay’s door on Mother’s Day to tell her that her son was dead.
“It’s our job to educate the public. I think we’ve done quite a bit, but there’s still more that everybody can do,” Cox said.
The problem with many synthetic drugs is the chemical compounds are being changed to alter the makeup from what is deemed to be illegal and allow it to be sold. They are also not as detectable as other drugs with side effects and behaviors. And most users are teenagers and young adults, said Kimble Richardson, a clinical addiction counselor from the Community Health Network.
“We are seeing a little bit more heroin use, but (synthetic drugs) are a growing trend. Any of the times I’ve dealt with patients, they are generally younger than 30, and high school kids are the majority. We’re concerned because it’s putting people on the medical side of the hospital. Some cases you don’t find out they’re (using synthetic drugs) until they’re in the ICU,” Richardson said.
“It’s hard to keep up on everything, and most parents want to believe what their kids tell them. Unless kids have a real reason to make parents not trust them, most parents don’t want to believe their child is abusing illegal drugs.”
That’s why parents need to be educated, Motsay said.
Keeping up to date
“The most common response is ‘That’s not my kid’; and until something happens, that’s the thought,” Motsay said. “I think there needs to be more adult involvement. Participating is the best way to ensure (drug-related deaths) don’t happen.”
Local schools also are involved in those efforts.
Greenwood Community High School Principal Todd Garrison is educating himself so he can inform teachers on what behaviors to look for and pay attention to in the classroom.
“It’s important we are keeping up to date on what’s new. We’re continually updating and providing the latest info on how it’s abused, what it does to your body; and we train our teachers on what to look for in the classrooms,” Garrison said.
“Kids try these drugs because they hear about it, but they’re not educated on the consequences. We need to educate them more.”
At Franklin Community High School, 11 students were caught with synthetic drugs last semester, and nine of those students had synthetic marijuana. The school looked for ways to educate students, reached out to parents and applied for a grant for drug tests that can detect synthetic drugs. Parents can volunteer their child for random drug testing, even if they aren’t involved with extracurricular activities.
At Wednesday’s forum, parents asked about how to detect drug abuse, what to do and where they can go for help when they find out their child is abusing drugs.
Justin Phillips sees another issue parents face: the social stigma of drugs. Her son, Aaron Sims, passed away from a heroin overdose in October 2013 at the age of 20.
“As a parent, because of the stigma around drug addiction, it’s hard to admit you need help,” Phillips said. “When my son first asked for help and asked for treatment, I couldn’t go to work and say, ‘My kid just admitted he’s doing heroin.’ But if he was about to have cancer treatment, I could absolutely do that, and everyone would make casseroles for me, and I could get time off of work, and everyone would rally around me.”
‘A tragic en
David Plew and Dr. Dick Huber were also on Wednesday’s panel and have endured the same loss.
Plew’s son, Leland Plew, a 2010 graduate of Center Grove High School, died from a heroin overdose in July 2014. Plew and his wife found Leland unresponsive in his room and attempted CPR, but it was too late. After seven months sober and clean, Leland Plew had relapsed, and it took his life. As he spoke, David Plew paused to compose himself, as his dry eyes began to well up with tears.
“Leland was a success story that had a tragic ending.” Plew said. “He went to Fairbanks for detox and then spent three months at La Verna Lodge, and that came out of my pocket. I would have gone into bankruptcy to try and save my son. I would have done anything.”
Huber, a retired health care professional, speaks to roughly 125 classrooms a year about drug abuse. Just like every other time he’d given the speech before Wednesday, Huber stood and spoke firmly about the dangers of drugs. But when he reached into his right pocket and pulled out a photo of his son Kyle, who died from a methadone overdose, his voice became shaky and his lips started to tremble.
“Drugs killed my son,” Huber said. “We all need to work together at (drug prevention). It takes parents. It takes peers. Drugs are a big problem, and one approach is not going to take care of it.”
The Sam’s Watch website is samswatch.org.