December 05, 2012 - Brandon Twp.- Two months ago, a local teacher's daughter died of a heroin overdose.
"It's the hardest thing ever," says the teacher simply.
The pain of losing her child will prevent her from reading a page from her daughter's journal which she had hoped to do during the anti-drug presentation, "Chasing the Dragon," set for noon, Dec. 10 at Brandon High School, 1025 S. Ortonville Road, but the grieving mother calls the district's decision to bring the powerful program here, "fabulous."
BHS Principal Celeste Nowacki had requests to bring the program here from community members who had seen the program in Genesee County. This is the premiere of "Chasing the Dragon" in Oakland County.
This particular presentation not only warns against the dangers of drugs, but emphasizes the increasing number of deaths from heroin use. "Chasing the Dragon," is presented by Community Parent, a non-profit organization formed after two teenage girls died from heroin overdoses within two days of each other in February 2011. According to communityparent.org, since the first "Chasing the Dragon" presentation in March 2011 in Genesee County, more than 20,000 students, and thousands more teachers, administrators, parents, and many hundreds of local business and community leaders have attended the program in which 9-1-1 calls are heard and personal stories are shared.
"We have had some deaths in our area as a result of drug abuse in recent years," said Nowacki, who describes the program as very intense. "It is important for us to have it here, if we can prevent this from happening to any of our families, it's worth it. Our priority is to keep our kids safe. It's not always someone else's family and it happens to good families. I also think this presentation will make people aware that are struggling with this that there are resources to turn to for help."
Scott Masi, a Community Parent boardmember, helped bring the presentation to Brandon.
The 48-year-old Ortonville resident is a recovering crack cocaine addict and is an outreach and referral specialist at the Brighton Center for Recovery, one of the oldest treatment facilities in the nation. The center has 3,200 in-patients treated per year and has had "a lot" from the Goodrich and Ortonville area, he said.
"Heroin is a big issue, especially among the 18 to 25-year-old population," Masi said. "The new gateway is prescription medication, with a decreased timeframe of addiction. What used to take 5 to 10 years—from alcohol to drug addiction—takes months now. "
Masi cites statistics showing that 26.6 percent of 18-29 year-olds admitted into the Community Mental Health publicly funded substance abuse program in 2011 said heroin was their drug of choice, up from 4.7 percent in 2003. In Oakland County that number went from 13 percent in 2007 to more than 23 percent now and in Macomb County, 9-10 percent of treatment admission were for heroin in 2008, but that number has skyrocketed to close to 50 percent now.
Masi said as he walks the halls of the recovery center and asks patients how they ended up using heroin, the answer is always from prescription drugs—invariably, the patients were using opiates such as Vicodin and oxycontin, and moved on to heroin.
"Parents look at it from the inner city aspect, but in the last five years, inner city use has gone from 70 percent to less than 30 percent and it's just the inverse for the suburbs— from 30 to well over 70 percent in the suburbs," Masi said. "Roughly 80 percent of kids get their prescription medications from family, friends, people they know."
He notes that the United States has 4.6 percent of the world's population, yet Americans consume 99 percent of the world's hydrocodone (Vicodin).
Masi believes Americans are overmedicated and is concerned with the liberal use of Ritalin and similar drugs in kids.
Masi's spiral into addiction began in seventh grade when he started using marijuana and drinking alcohol, and progressed to crack cocaine use in his 30s, which continued for the next decade. His drug abuse resulted in an inability to keep jobs, a dozen police calls to his home, numerous incarcerations, and depletion of more than $85,000 in his retirement account to fund his addiction.
"I came close on a few occasions to burning my house down, leaving my wife and children for days at a time without them knowing where I was, having friends associated with drug use die of overdoses and go to prison, and finally not having any regard for my life— arguing with a group of drug dealers over $5, with a gun to my head after seeing a fellow homeless user dead a few houses down from the crack house I frequented," he said.
His marriage ended in divorce and six years ago, at 42, he finally broke free of the cycle of addiction with an intervention from his parents and his own recognition that he was killing himself and was ready to stop the insanity.
Now he works to help others overcome their addictions and hopes to prevent kids from going down the path to drugs with the presentation of "Chasing the Dragon."
"Kids and parents will get a wake-up call and it will hit them hard enough to understand, this does not discriminate and this is in our community," he said. "This presentation will open a dialogue, with kids, families, our schools… Drug use takes from your potential to experience life and any type of use does not add value to anything in your life… Addiction is a family and community disease."
Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville