Monday, December 11, 2017
Health

Vigil calls attention to overdose victims, and brings hope

NEW PORT RICHEY — The room was filling up fast. For Monica Rousseau, the sight of so many people searching for a seat at the annual Narcotics Overdose Prevention and Education candlelight vigil was both heartbreaking and uplifting.

"I can’t even guess how many people are here," Rousseau said as volunteers wheeled in carts with stacks of chairs. "This is so sad. Look at all these people who have lost someone."

As coordinator of Pasco ASAP (Alliance for Substance Abuse Prevention), Rousseau helped organize this year’s vigil, held on Oct. 26 at the Verizon Center in New Port Richey. It was one of many held across the country — on the day President Donald Trump declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency.

The Pasco NOPE vigil, which included poetry, music and speakers who shared personal stories, was meant to honor the hundreds of people in Pasco County who have died from drug overdoses while bringing light to various service organizations available to those with addictions and their loved ones.

"For a lot of the families, it feels like a failure, especially when it’s a child," said Kellie Walker, who was busy mingling and handing out ASAP literature. "There’s comfort in the community for everything."

Part of that comes in addressing a stigma that prevents far too many from seeking help for an illness that Rousseau and others liken to the lifelong care that follows a diagnosis of diabetes. That the room was surging — bringing in well over the 150 or so who had sent RSVPs — was a sign the fog of shame might be lifting.

No one is immune.

Not the teenager from Safe Teens Against Drugs who was greeting folks and handing out candles because "it felt good to be around people who knew what it feels like" to have a parent addicted to drugs. Not county Commissioner Mike Wells or New Port Richey Police Chief Kim Bogart, who spoke of relatives’ struggles with addiction. Not attendee Terri Zaccone, whose son, Thomas DeVito, died at age 29, leaving a 5-month-old daughter and a world of grief. Not Maria Leon, 34, who spilled tears while standing before a makeshift memorial wall alongside her mom, pointing to photographs of people she knew.

Amanda, Ashley, Josh, Kara and Alex all smiled back in better times.

"Half of them aren’t even up there. It’s messed up," Leon said, noting that it was one year to the day that her cousin, Alex Barrios, died from a drug overdose of heroin and fentanyl, a powerful, synthetic painkiller linked to thousands of fatalities nationwide.

"I used to use with him. I got clean, and he didn’t," she said.

"He didn’t have a funeral," said Leon’s mother, Maria Vigil-Kennedy, 69. "For me, this is a way to say goodbye."

Leon, who works as a hairstylist and plans to further her education at Pasco-Hernando State College in the spring, is the flip side — the hope. On Sept. 6, 2014, she made her way out of Overtown an opioid "hot zone" neighborhood in Miami, and into recovery after following her mother to the Tampa Bay area.

It’s a tough, daily climb, with dire consequences for those who don’t make it.

According to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some 64,000 people from across the United States died from overdoses in 2016. Locally, Pasco tied for fourth among Florida’s 67 counties for having the highest drug-poisoning death rate, according to data collected between 2012 and 2015. According to ASAP’s "Profile of Alcohol Drug Indicators," highlighted at its July conference, fentanyl-caused deaths in Pasco have increased tenfold since 2011.

While Pasco is not considered an opioid "hot spot," on Oct. 22 the Sheriff’s Office alerted the community through a Facebook post that deputies had tended to several drug overdoses in west Pasco thought to have been heroin and fentanyl related.

There were nine overdoses in a three-day period, said Sheriff’s Office public information officer Amy Marinec, adding that Narcan, which is used to reverse an overdose, had been administered by first responders.

"It was so alarming that our major felt the need to put it out there to investigate leads to where the drugs were coming from," Marinec said, noting that the Facebook post included a number to call for substance abuse help.

While illegal drugs are procured on the streets, addiction often is traced back to a family’s medicine cabinet or a doctor’s office.

"I never got anything illegally," said Kellie Walker, who long struggled with alcohol and got hooked on narcotics prescribed for anxiety.

After several tries and hospitalizations, she found sobriety in a 12-step program and has been clean for about three years.

"It was free — a last-ditch resort," said Walker, who now helps others by serving on the ASAP recovery committee.

"Most people in recovery have been to more funerals than have seen successes, but there is hope," she said. "There are people that completely recover, get their families back, their lives back, and it’s wonderful to see."

Contact Michele Miller at [email protected] Follow @MicheleMiller52.

Comments
A boy shares the pain of being bullied - inspiring thousands to show him love (w/video)

A boy shares the pain of being bullied - inspiring thousands to show him love (w/video)

While fighting back tears, young Keaton Jones couldn’t stop asking one question: Why?"Just out of curiosity, why do they bully? What’s the point of it?" he asks his mother while in the passenger seat of a parked car. "Why do you find joy in taking in...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Legalization of marijuana for adults poses problems for people dealing with teens

Legalization of marijuana for adults poses problems for people dealing with teens

WESTMINSTER, Calif. — After Yarly Raygoza attended the drug prevention program at the Boys & Girls Club here last year, she used what she learned to talk a few friends out of using marijuana.The 14-year-old took the class again this year but worries ...
Published: 12/10/17
Millions gained coverage since Obamacare, but many are worse off as premiums soar

Millions gained coverage since Obamacare, but many are worse off as premiums soar

As open enrollment for Affordable Care Act coverage nears the deadline of Dec. 15, and Florida once again leads all states using the federal exchange at healthcare.gov, Heidi and Richard Reiter sit at the kitchen table at their Davie home and struggl...
Published: 12/10/17
A gift of hands: After loss, a man finds hope from healing ones (w/video)

A gift of hands: After loss, a man finds hope from healing ones (w/video)

ST. PETERSBURG — Francisco Piedra fixed his eyes on the man sitting beside him. His name was Richard Brown, and in his hands he held Piedra’s new ones.The prosthetics were black and plastic. Each one took about 20 hours to build from a 3D printer. Pi...
Published: 12/08/17
The solar eclipse burned a crescent wound on a woman’s retina. She wasn’t wearing proper glasses.

The solar eclipse burned a crescent wound on a woman’s retina. She wasn’t wearing proper glasses.

Like so many others, 26-year-old Nia Payne wanted to view of August’s historic solar eclipse but didn’t have a pair of protective glasses. She walked outside on Staten Island and glanced at the sun - 70 percent was covered - for about six seconds bef...
Published: 12/08/17
At St. Joseph’s Women’s Hospital, death of a colleague inspires ‘hats with heart’

At St. Joseph’s Women’s Hospital, death of a colleague inspires ‘hats with heart’

TAMPA — Brittany Weatherby didn’t know how to crochet when she started her job as a registered nurse at St. Joseph’s Women’s Hospital, and she never dreamed of learning how.Maybe her grandma used to, she tried to remember, but Weatherby never really ...
Published: 12/08/17
How kids’ books can introduce a lifetime of fitness

How kids’ books can introduce a lifetime of fitness

When I became a parent last year, it seemed likely my marathon running days were behind me.Running had made me a grittier person. It had given me the very specific self-assurance that comes from calmly enduring 26 miles on foot, a quality that would ...
Published: 12/08/17

Mayo Clinic Q&A: seek attention for mole that bleeds; a look at lung restoration

DON’T WAIT: BLEEDING MOLE SHOULD BE EVALUATED BY A DOCTOR Should I see a health care provider for a mole that bleeds occasionally?Yes. Although it may not be serious, a mole that bleeds is a possible sign of melanoma, a rare but serious skin cancer t...
Published: 12/08/17
Lightened Shepherd’s Pie comforting, quick

Lightened Shepherd’s Pie comforting, quick

When the weather gets cooler, we want to tuck into comfort food in our home. Doing a recipe makeover on a tasty-but-less-than-healthy dish is one of my favorite challenges. Today, I’m taking on a wintertime classic with my Lightened Shepherd’s Pie. T...
Published: 12/08/17
Green Salad With Pumpkin Vinaigrette celebrates holiday season

Green Salad With Pumpkin Vinaigrette celebrates holiday season

By MELISSA D’ARABIANSummer may officially be the season of green salads, but wintertime versions have advantages that make them worth exploring. The cooler weather seasonable greens are hearty and darker green, which makes them nutrient-rich. And, th...
Published: 12/08/17