OKEECHOBEE — Read these statements: A drug free community; stop drug abuse; help stop drug abuse in our area.
They sound pretty much like common sense.
It’s not that simple.
Thursday night the Narcotics Overdose Prevention and Education or NOPE put a face to drugs, drug abuse, and those impacted, their heart broken families.
Drugs are a major problem in Okeechobee.
Now read these names, Ryan Smith, 20, Cynthia McClure, 46, Norma Colon, 23, Amber Smoth. 22, Jessica Romani, 21, Spencer Foster, 14, Larry Wright Sr., 59, Perry Brittain, 44, and Troy Adams, 29 They all had something in common, they died due to drug abuse and or addiction.
A candlelight vigil and tribute was held at the Okeechobee Civic Center attended by over 100 people Thursday.
Marty McCormick explained to the crowd that NOPE was founded in Palm Beach County in 2004 to try and save lives, and reduce the damage drugs can do.
Law enforcement officers, family members of those lost to drug abuse, and drug users themselves go into schools to spread the word that drugs can be stopped.
Drug overdose death is the leading cause of accidental deaths in America today, even more than car accidents. Some 2,500 teens every day try prescription drugs for the first time in an effort to get high. The average age of first use of prescription drugs for non-medical reasons is 15 years old.
Many get the drugs from inside their own homes in mom and dads, and grandparent’s medicine cabinets.
McCormick advised those in attendance to count your drugs, and to discard the unused ones at a pharmacy or bring them to law enforcement. He also advises parents to lock up their alcohol.
McCormick said there are doctors today who are more akin to drug dealers.
He pointed out one physician is on trial in Palm Beach County for giving 100 pain pills per day to a patient, who later died.
He said the goal is to raise awareness, eliminate the prejudice shown toward addicts, and open the door to treatment for those addicted.
McCormick said for many years doctors were slow to recognize addiction.
He said society must change and remove the shame and emphasize recovery and survival.
“The addict come from all walks of life,” he noted. “They aren’t all sleezy, It is a disease more than a moral failing.”
The keynote speaker this year was Courtney Lapp-Hicks who admitted she had been using drugs since the age of 16. She started with cocaine and mushrooms. Later her parents caught on and she got in trouble. At age 17 she was pregnant with her first child. She gave birth at age 18. After six months she gave up the child because she wanted to party more than she wanted to be a mom.
Lapp-Hicks said she doesn’t remember a lot of her young life because she was always high.
“If you can think it, I did it. I used my family and friends,” she noted.
The low point came when her father died and she was given $100 by a friend to travel home and go to his funeral. Instead she bought drugs and missed the funeral.
“I felt like I had to get high. I can never remember a time when I was sober,” she recalled.
After her mother’s death she estimated she went through $9,000 in drugs in a 30-day period. She was in a DCF emergency custody hearing when her mom passed away and finally realized she had hit rock bottom and needed to change. She decided she would do anything she could to keep her daughter. She entered into rehabilitation, worked hard to recover, and has now been sober for 10 years.
“That was the last day I shot up meth. I took care of my daughter, got a job, and became a functioning human being. When you’re high you don’t realize the damage you cause your loved ones. All that matters is your next fix,” she added.
She just became a business owner in Okeechobee.
The candle light vigil included inspiration songs sung by Alicia Esque.
Contributors included the Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office, Okeechobee County Substance Abuse Coalition, Tin Fish Restaurant, Jersey’s Mike’s and Golden Corral.
More information on NOPE can be found online at www.nopetaskforce.org.
Charles M. Murphy is a staff writer for the Okeechobee News