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How One Mom is Taking on the Heroin Epidemic in St. Louis
Visit www.not-even-once.com and you’ll meet ten young adults. Each one with remarkable talents, whether on the field, in the classroom or on the stage. Each one with big smiles and even bigger hearts who brought joy to those around them.
But with just one hit, their lives took an unexpected twist, stealing their futures and devastating their families.
Taylor Green (pictured) is just one of the hundreds of St. Louisans who lost their lives to heroin in the past three years. According to his mom, Marilyn Smashey, “Growing up, Taylor was mama’s little boy and daddy’s little buddy. He had these big bright eyes and bright smile, and was always laughing. Just a normal bubbly kid.”
Green was an intelligent student with an incredible imagination, but had difficulties concentrating in class. By high school, Green began to rebel, hanging out with a new group of friends and skipping school. Then at age 17, Green told his mom the reason – he was using heroin.
After his addiction led to stints in both jail and rehab, Green started to show incredible progress in his fight against the drug. Clean for a month, he was preparing for his GED, interviewing for jobs, and had a new girlfriend. Smashey was thrilled for her son’s future.
However, on December 5, 2009, she found her son dead in his room from an overdose.
“All it took was one phone call,” she remarked. “The problem is the dealers will call you and they will find you. Like Taylor told me, these kids don’t want to do heroin, but they don’t know how not to do it. One call when you have the urge and it draws you right back in.”
Awareness through "Not Even Once"
Each time Smashey shares Green’s story in front of an assembly of high school students, she encourages them to picture their own moms standing there, telling their stories. For a roomful of teens who think they’re invincible, her heartbreaking approach strikes a chord.
“You can hear a pin drop when the assembly is over,” said Smashey. “These kids may walk away and never think about heroin again, but if at some point they’re faced with the option, they might start thinking of Taylor.”
Smashey spent a year and a half trying to get Green’s dealer held accountable for his death. But after hitting brick wall after brick wall, she chose to focus her efforts on something positive – joining the St. Louis office of the National Council on Alcoholism & Drug Abuse on its Not Even Once campaign. Together, the NCADA, along with parents like Smashey and local law enforcement, have presented at town hall forums and schools to raise awareness about the epidemic.
Still, many parents think heroin isn’t a concern in their neighborhoods or that the local media is sensationalizing the topic. But the truth is, according to Dan Duncan, NCADA’s director of community services, more than 200 St. Louisans lost their lives to heroin in 2010, and many were kids from our own backyards.
“We took the calls we got from parents about heroin in 2010 and plotted them on a map,” explained Duncan. “The calls came from all over St. Louis County, with a concentration in West County and South County. We’re seeing kids from the finest high schools in the County, and as you can imagine, their parents just aren’t expecting it.”
Duncan noted the rise in heroin usage is due to a variety of factors. For one, increased prescriptions for powerful painkillers has led to a proliferation of synthetic opiates in the marketplace. It’s become extremely easy for teens to raid a family member’s medicine chest or pick up a bottle on the streets.
When painkillers can no longer feed the addiction, teens transition into its stronger counterpart, heroin, which has become more refined and more affordable than the black tar heroin parents my age associate with the drug wars of the 1980’s and 1990’s. A button of heroin averages $10 – less than a 12-pack of beer – and because it’s snorted or smoked instead of injected, today’s teens feel it’s a safer option.
However, according to Duncan, don’t let it fool you. Today’s heroin is equally addictive and equally lethal, especially when taken by a teen whose brain and body are still developing.
Speaking to our kids now
Both Duncan and Smashey agree – parents need to open up the discussion about heroin and other drugs earlier than we might think. Kids as young as eight are not only able to grasp the devastation drugs can cause, they still regard mom and dad as the biggest influencers on their lives.
Said Smashey, “You can shelter your kids as long as you want to, but there’s a good chance at some time, they’ll be faced with the decision to try drugs or not. Instilling a little bit of fear in them now isn’t such a bad thing. They’re more influenced by mom and dad at age eight or nine, but when they become impressionable 12, 13, 14-year-olds, you’ve already set the foundation that ‘drugs are not something I want to get involved in.’”
Even as parents start granting their middle and high schoolers more and more independence, knowing what your kids are doing and reinforcing your stance on drugs is still important. And guess what, parents? They’re listening.
“We need to protect our kids when they’re teenagers as diligently as we did when they were tots,” Duncan remarked. “Parents have to be on top of their game and involved in their kids’ lives. You still need to know where your kids are and what they’re doing. As my dad always said, ‘hold the rope taut and let it out slowly.’”
Fighting through fundraising
On February 25, 2012, you can help NCADA in its battle against drug and alcohol abuse in St. Louis by attending its 10thAnnual Trivia Night and Silent Auction. The event will be held at 7 p.m. at Clayton High School, #1 Mark Twain Circle in Clayton, and the cost is $25 per person or $180 for a table of eight. For reservations, visit www.ncada-stl.org or call 314-962-3456.
With parental guidance, efforts like Not Even Once, and support from all of us in the community, NCADA and its partners can help get St. Louis one step closer to kicking the region’s heroin habit.
By Nicole Plegge, Lifestyle Blogger for SmartParenting
Photo courtesy of the Not Even Once campaign