Photo by Jason White
Trimpe Middle School students listen to a presentation about the dangers of drugs Friday morning in Bethalto.
When it comes to heroin and other highly addictive drugs, that’s all it takes to destroy a promising young life, Madison County officials told Trimpe Middle School students in Bethalto Friday.
State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons and Coroner Steve Nonn were among the speakers at an assembly that joined a series of efforts to educate students about the dangers of drugs.
Last year in Madison County, 75 people died of confirmed overdose deaths, including 22 heroin overdoses. If all pending cases come back positive, the Coroner’s Office will have recorded 101 overdose deaths in 2014, an increase of 47 deaths from 2013. The number of heroin-related deaths has stayed about the same for the past three years. In 2008, five people died from heroin overdoses.
“We’ve got something going on in Madison County that’s taking people just like you and turning you into thieves, into drug dealers and in some cases even into murderers,” Gibbons told the students.
Lives can be ruined by as simple an action as taking a handful of pills from a medicine cabinet and giving them to friends. From there, someone can be charged with drug possession, drug distribution and drug-induced homicide if anyone dies in the chain of distribution.
“The reason I’m here telling you about this is because it happens so much and I don’t want it to happen to you,” Gibbons said.
It’s the coroner’s job to investigate drug-related and other preventable deaths. One of the hardest parts of that job is informing parents of their child’s death, Nonn said.
“Every one of those calls was preventable if they had just been smarter,” Nonn said. “We don’t want to go to your mom’s door with that message. That’s why we’re being aggressive; that’s why we’re going after these people that deal in death.
“We’re not going to let people die needlessly in this town anymore, and we need your help,” he said.
Chief Coroner’s Investigator Kelly Rogers is heading up Nonn’s efforts to stem the tide of drug-related deaths. He told students of an investigation in which a husband and wife took China white, a potent synthetic form of heroin, for the first time and died. The woman’s mother heard their 3-month-old baby crying, went upstairs and found the couple dead on the floor.
“If you use this drug just once, you are addicted,” Rogers said. “This drug just consumes your life.”
Troy Police Department D.A.R.E. officer Chris Coyne showed students a crime scene photo of an overdose victim dumped in a farm field by friends who panicked after he overdosed. He also played a recording of an addict, forced to become a prostitute to support her drug habit, describing withdrawal symptoms. Students learned about ailments associated with intravenous drug use, include collapsed veins, bacterial infections, HIV, hepatitis and skin lesions.
“Please, choose your friends wisely,” Coyne said. “Pick friends that make good choices.”
Students also listened to a presentation from Collinsville High School Assistant Principal Kari Karidis, whose son died from a heroin overdose in November. She played students a slideshow of photos of her son from before his addiction. She said he was making progress in treatment before his death.
“People with addictions, they’re not bad people; they’re good people who make bad choices, and unfortunately that bad choice will turn people into what my son self-described as a monster,” Karidis said.
“You all have to watch out for each other,” she said. “You know better than the adults what you’re going through ... be aware, and don’t be afraid to speak up.”