CUYAHOGA FALLS: In the high school auditorium, a father shared the heartbreaking details of a life spent with a son who ultimately lost his battle with heroin.
In the library, police staff explained how to spot signs of drug use in a seemingly average teenager’s bedroom.
In a second-floor classroom, three addicts talked about their daily efforts to stay clean.
Down the hall, a health professional demonstrated how to bring the dead back to life.
More than 100 parents and community members took advantage of the invitation to Let’s Talk: Starting the Conversation About Teen Opiate Use.
They were met at Cuyahoga Falls High School by representatives from more than two-dozen sources who used breakout sessions, interactive displays and resource booths to arm them in the fight against drug abuse.
On average, five Ohioans die each day from heroin or prescription painkillers, chemicals with the ability to tell the brain to quit breathing.
With overdose deaths growing by nearly 500 percent in the past decade, a team of school, city and county personnel were inspired to take more aggressive measures in sharing what they know about the epidemic.
“We’re losing our young ones,” said Johanna Tanno, a Western Reserve Hospital wellness coordinator who works with the school, “and we shouldn’t be.”
Father shares clues
Robbie Brandt was an Olmsted Falls High School freshman when he had his wisdom teeth extracted and was prescribed pain medication.
“We were smart enough to know to get him off those pills in two days,” his dad, Rob Brandt, said.
It didn’t matter. That’s all the time it took for those pills to own him.
Brandt imagined his son’s thought process when friends later offered him pills to get high: “I liked the way it made me feel. It comes from a doctor. It comes through a pharmacy. Nothing bad happened to me.”
“And that’s where his addiction started,” Brandt said.
After a time, Robbie’s mom suspected something was off, but Robbie’s dad took him at his word when he confronted his son and was told nothing was wrong.
“How many of you have kids that don’t like to get out of bed in the morning?” Brandt asked an audience that collectively raised their hands. “How many of you have teens with mood swings? How many of you have kids who change friends ... Whose grades aren’t really good on a midterm report? Those were the signs, but to us that was normal adolescent behavior.”
After graduation, Robbie wanted to enter the service and found the motivation to get clean. He joined the National Guard.
“He knew they would take him away from all the people and places and triggers that kept pulling him back into addiction,” Brandt said.
And it worked. He came home from basic and advanced training healthy and happy, Brandt said.
But the old triggers were patiently waiting. A friend introduced him to heroin.
More rehab followed, and when a date was set for his deployment to Afghanistan, he found new reason to stay sober. Weeks of sobriety turned into months of clean living.
But the drug was always in his heart “chasing him every day,” Brandt said. A couple of weeks from deployment, in a sudden moment of weakness, Robbie drove himself to an East Cleveland neighborhood in search of a fix. He was found dead there from an overdose.
Brandt founded Robby’s Voice, a Medina-based nonprofit that works with schools. Brandt has shared his story with more than 20,000 students and parents, hoping people will recognize themselves in the clues of his own experience.
“By God, if it can happen to us,” he said, “it can happen to anybody.”
Proper way to snoop
The Aqua Net hair spray on your daughter’s dresser might have pills tucked inside the hidden bottom.
The tire gauge in your son’s pocket is a perfect smoking device.
That bag of gummy bears that look fatter than normal have been soaked in vodka.
And see that water bottle being passed by your kids and their friends? Yeah, nobody passes around water that eagerly.
Hidden In Plain Sight — a program by the Bath and Copley police departments — teaches parents how to outsmart their kids.
Using a traveling exhibit of a typical teen’s bedroom, parents are invited to spot trouble.
Bottles of Visine might suggest someone who is trying to hide red eyes.
Be curious about incense sticks in a room, or a kid who carries around a small can of Axe body spray.
“If your kid comes home smelling better than when they left, that’s a clue,” Copley Detective Paul Webb said.
Everyday objects sold as safes for cash and personal objects are also keeping parents from seeing drugs and paraphernalia. They includes suntan lotion tubes, cans of Pringles with a few real chips under the cover, peanut butter jars that screw together at the label, even dirty underwear that counts on the gross factor to keep someone from noticing the Velcro pocket in the crotch.
“When you’re snooping, you have to pick up things, open things, look inside,” Copley Officer Duane Scott said.
Drug tools can be built into hemp bracelets, lipstick holders and lip balms.
And check the trash: A crushed pop can with holes or slices in the side, a water bottle with a hole cut out of it, a mangled fruit juice box and straw might all be smoking devices. A toilet roll with a dryer sheet on the end can be used to mask the smell of each puff.
Hear a word you don’t recognize? Dro, mids, reggie, shake, nuggs, purp. They each mean marijuana.
Visit urbandictionary.com or download a similar smartphone app to investigate any language you don’t understand, Webb said.
Survivors credit drug court
Brittany, a 2007 Cuyahoga Falls High School graduate, was raised by a loving family and surrounded by lots of friends. She was active in sports, played instruments, and participated in choir.
“I was the kind of kid you wanted your kids to hang out with,” Brittany told a standing-room-only group assembled in Room 529.
Not the kind of girl who would end up in a coma from drug use. Not the kind of girl who would wake up and celebrate her close call by doing cocaine.
Soon afterward, she added heroin to her resume, leading to a five-year struggle that included seven overdoses, repeated trips to jail and periods of homelessness.
Her last legal wrangling ended with her in Turning Point, a Summit County drug court where Judge Tom Teodosio and a treatment team try to guide addicts to better lives.
Brittany warned parents how deceptive drug addicts can be.
“The manipulation and justification, we tell you guys what we think you want to hear. It’s so conniving, and you want to believe us because you think you’re helping us,” she said.
But her usual lies wouldn’t work at Turning Point, staffed with pros who are wise to all the tricks.
“Can you survive this? Absolutely. But you have to be honest. You have to give a little bit up,” she said.
Seated next to her, Ryan — a 1996 Falls graduate — said he also was the product of caring parents who never did drugs or alcohol. That didn’t stop him from a 14-year heroin addiction.
His advice to parents: Don’t give your addict children money or a ride. Every dime will go to drugs. Every ride will lead to a drug dealer.
“It’s all we think about. Drugs are oxygen to us,” he said.
Shame and guilt won’t cure an addict, he said.
“The best thing my parents ever did for me when I was using, my dad sat me down and said ‘Son, I love you. What can we do to help you?’ For 20 minutes, I actually wanted to quit heroin, which was amazing,” Ryan said. “But even that didn’t last. This disease has a control over us. It takes over our minds and we become sick ... Even death doesn’t stop us.”
Ryan said he was revived seven times, and each time his first waking thought was how to leave the hospital to find more heroin.
At one point, Ryan recalled falling to his knees and asking God for help. A week later, he was on the floor of his bathroom again, paramedics hovering above him. Two weeks later, he was in Teodosio’s courtroom, being introduced to Turning Point.
Back to life
About 100 people in the United States die every day from an overdose of heroin or painkillers, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
Ohio has been trying to lower its contribution to that figure by circulating a life-giving drug to addicts and their loved ones, and now Summit County Public Health has joined the cause.
Since February, the health department has been passing out anti-overdose kits to people who might otherwise be forced to stand by helpless when opiate misuse takes a tragic turn.
Opiates have the ability to interfere with a brain’s receptors, causing the user to stop breathing. An application of the non-narcotic drug Naloxone can counter those deadly effects, counseling supervisor Yvette Edwards said.
The county is a partner in the statewide initiative Project DAWN. The local Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board is helping to pay for the $88 kits, which are provided for free.
On Tuesdays from 3 to 6 p.m., Summit County’s health department accepts walk-ins to its 1867 W. Market St. facility in Akron.
Addicts or family members receive a lesson on how to recognize an overdose, perform rescue breathing, and apply the Naloxone nose spray. An on-site doctor will write and fill a prescription for the drug.
Naloxone does not reverse overdoses caused by cocaine, methamphetamines, alcohol or drugs like Xanax and Valium.
Paula Schleis can be reached at 330-996-3741 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/paulaschleis.