Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Hundreds gather at Largo vigil to remember those lost to prescription drug abuse

LARGO — Robin Wikle gazed out at hundreds of dimly lit faces and told the story of how her nightmare began.

With a quiver in her voice, the Pinellas County School Board chairwoman told of the excuses she made — lies that she told herself — in order to avoid admitting that her oldest son, Wesley, had a problem with prescription drugs.

"I'm here to ask you to take your head out of the sand," Wikle said. "I wish someone had told me this six years ago."

Wikle was one of a dozen people to address the fourth annual Narcotics Overdose Prevention and Education candlelight vigil Thursday night at Largo Central Park. The event, one of several throughout Florida, drew more than 500 attendees, including many who had lost family members or friends to drug abuse.

Though NOPE seeks to prevent and combat drug abuse of all kinds, the theme of the night was prescription drugs, by far the most common cause of narcotics-related deaths in Pinellas County.

"This is a problem unlike any other problem we've faced," said Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri.

He explained that many people addicted to prescription drugs got hooked unintentionally after they were prescribed medication for an injury. He noted the various efforts his agency has enacted to curb the problem, including drug "take-back" events and jail rehabilitation programs. But they can only do so much, the sheriff said.

"We cannot stop this problem, because it's an addiction problem," Gualtieri said.

The numbers are striking.

Out of 217 people who died in Pinellas County in 2011 from an accidental drug overdose, 181 were the result of prescription drugs.

Also striking are the ages of some of those who have died. Hundreds of names and pictures were continuously displayed on a large screen next to the stage.

Heather York, 20. Steven Wimberly, 18. Landon Corabek, 17. Colby Crutchfield, 13 …

"I chose denial for far too long," Wikle said. "Our nightmare begins with my head in the sand."

For Wesley, it began with a car wreck outside his school, after which he was prescribed medication, she said. When he stopped coming home, Wikle told herself he was out with friends. When he slept endlessly, she said it was because he was a growing young man. When she found money missing from her purse, it was because she forgot to go to the ATM.

Her denial ended when her son was convicted on prescription fraud charges and sentenced to three years in prison.

Other speakers spoke of losing loved ones and called on parents to talk to their children about prescription drugs.

Lock up your medications. Dispose of medications you don't use.

Michael Bell never had any idea his daughter, Rachel Gravitt, was using prescription drugs. The 27-year-old was already dead in the emergency room when he got the call in March 2010 and learned what had happened.

Thursday night Bell perused a lighted memorial wall alongside the gathering, where family and friends posted messages over more photos, more names. He has attended the vigil each year since his daughter's death.

"It's going to save somebody," he said. "That's the most important thing."

Dan Sullivan can be reached at (727) 893-8321 or dsullivan@tampabay.com.

Hundreds gather at Largo vigil to remember those lost to prescription drug abuse 10/25/12 [Last modified: Thursday, October 25, 2012 11:25pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Lightning takes defenseman Cal Foote with top pick in draft

    Lightning Strikes

    CHICAGO — Cal Foote said he was so young when his father, Adam, played in the NHL, he didn't remember their hug in the Avalanche's dressing room during the 2001 Stanley Cup celebration.

    Cal Foote, second from left, is welcomed to the Lightning by GM Steve Yzerman, far left.
  2. Lightning journal: Plans set for 25th anniversary celebration

    Lightning Strikes

    CHICAGO — The Lightning revealed some of its plans for its 25th anniversary season Friday, including a ceremony to honor the 2004 Stanley Cup team.

    fit test: Top draft pick Cal Foote puts on his Lightning jersey.
  3. Lightning picks defenseman Cal Foote

    Blogs

    Cal Foote is the son of former Avs defenseman Adam Foote.
  4. Kids today: They don't work summer jobs the way they used to

    Business

    WASHINGTON — It was at Oregon's Timberline Lodge, later known as a setting in the horror movie The Shining, where Patrick Doyle earned his first real paycheck.

    Teens Ben Testa, from left, Hannah Waring and Abby McDonough, and Wegmeyer Farms owner Tyler Wegmeyer walk the strawberry rows at the Hamilton, Va., farm in late May.
  5. Jeb Bush back in the hunt for the Marlins, now opposing Derek Jeter

    Blogs

    Associated Press:

    Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has switched sides in pursuit of the Miami Marlins, and he’s trying to beat out former teammate Derek Jeter.