Caption: Our youngest (bottom right), daughter in the middle, and Billy on the left, whom we lost in April 2016 to overdose.
By Jenny Derr
Another young life was taken a month ago – a death as a result of an unintended overdose.
He was a close friend of our youngest son. I last saw him at the Celebration of Life for another young man who also died of an overdose this past summer. What the f**k? How many more lives will we lose before we all wake up?
I speak as a part of an initiative launched by the U.S. Attorney’s office. Our program is called Silent No More on substance misuse, and we speak to high schools and middle schools – normally presenting a program for the students during the day and then another in the evening for parents.
Through February 2020, this is what our parent attendance looked like across the Richmond, Virginia, region at area high schools:
- Cosby High School -18
- Deep Run High School – 20
- Freeman High School -15
- Glen Allen High School – 3
- Varina High School – 0
You get the gist. Very, very low parent participation.
Why? I am genuinely curious about why?
Do parents get turned off thinking these events are just about opiates? Do they think it’s not their kid, so not their problem? Do you think you already know everything?
Now we’re in the middle of another deadly public health crisis. Schools are closed and families are hunkered down, following stay-at-home and physical distancing orders to keep their communities safer and help flatten the COVID-19 curve. Many of us – no matter our ages or whether we are physically alone or surrounded by family members – are feeling socially isolated.
While we’re all at home with our families and our thoughts, maybe we could give this issue some serious attention – maybe we could begin to genuinely acknowlege substance dependence and abuse. I would really love feedback on this. No kid starts with heroin. They start with drinking, then maybe weed. (And if your kids are juuling or vaping, it’s highly likely they are also smoking weed.) Or someone gives them a pill leftover from having their wisdom teeth removed, or a sports injury.
And this is the scary part: The stuff on the street is KILLING OUR KIDS. Fentanyl is being laced into everything, including marijuana. Your kids think they are taking an Oxy – it’s fentanyl. The weed out there is nothing like what was around when we were in high school. It is exponentially more potent and also laced with other substances.
Cannabis-induced psychosis is on the rise. Kids are ending up in psych wards in unprecedented numbers. And if you think this is overly dramatic, it isn’t. Just ask the mother who looked at her son’s bloody fingers, from when he tried to claw out of his hospital room thinking he was Jesus and that he could save the other patients.
This isn’t my normal type of post. This is a weird and scary time for a lot of reasons. But today, my heart is broken for another family who will never see their sweet child’s smile again. And who can’t even have a gathering of friends and family to support them because we are all in isolation.
My heart is especially broken for my son, who lost his older brother and who has had more loss in his twenty years than most people my age.
I would love to hear from any parent of a middle or high schooler. You can private message me on FB or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. How do we change our messaging to get parents and families to engage in these programs? I can tell you that every parent that has come has learned something.
I am just very sad and more than anything, I want to see change that saves lives.
Nearly a third of Americans know someone who is or has been addicted to opioids or prescriptions painkillers, according to the American Psychiatric Association. Read this important update related to medical procedures and opioid prescriptions from VCU Health’s Dr. Omar Abubaker.