- Associated Press - Thursday, October 27, 2016

MUNCIE, Ind. (AP) - The high school students listening to Justin Phillips speak on Tuesday morning were just a couple of years younger than her son, Aaron, was when he died of a heroin overdose.

She told his story at the annual Red Ribbon Week breakfast, kicking off the 21st annual Red Ribbon week. Aaron was 20 years old. Phillips believes he had only been doing heroin for about four months. His addiction to opioids was much longer, she said.

“It made a realization that people aren’t invincible,” said Garison Rehfus, from Burris Laboratory School.

Along with the 38 members of the Delaware County PRIDE Team - who have pledged to live drug- and alcohol- free - each of the eight high schools in the county had a table of students listening.

Looking back now, Phillips said she sees the signs she didn’t recognize as drug abuse before: Aaron’s pinpoint pupils, the missing spoons, the unusual scratching.

At one point Aaron came to her and asked for help. She said she went to work and let a friend take him to treatment, because drug use was something to be ashamed of and judged for.

“If my child had been diagnosed with cancer, I would have gone to work and asked for your help and support,” she said. “I do believe if I didn’t have that shame, stigma and denial, I would have responded to Aaron’s cries for help differently.”

His death lead her to start Overdose Lifeline, Inc, an Indiana-based nonprofit that aims to reduce the stigma of addiction and prevent opioid overdose deaths. Phillips said the organization has distributed more than 7,000 Narcan nasal spray kits, which can reverse an overdose, to first responders.

The drug problem is significant in Delaware County. Eric Hoffman, chief deputy trial prosecutor, said the Delaware County Prosecutor’s Office filed 213 meth cases and 122 heroin cases in 2015. That’s a big increase compared to 2011, when 45 meth cases and four heroin cases were filed.

“We don’t see this problem going away any time soon,” he said.

The Delaware County PRIDE team performed, pulling a police officer up on stage during the final musical number, “Count on Me.” Afterward, Katie Smith, from Wapahani High School, said she was inspired to help others.

Through the week students, teachers and community members will wear a red ribbon or bracelet to signify their decision to live a drug-, alcohol- and tobacco-free life.

Ultimately, Phillips encouraged the audience to change the language they use to be more compassionate to those struggling with addiction. Addiction is a chronic brain disorder, she said, kind of like diabetes.

“(Aaron) was a good kid.” Phillips said. “They’re all good kids; they’re all someone’s kid.”


Source: The (Muncie) Star Press, https://tspne.ws/2dXCYbp


Information from: The Star Press, https://www.thestarpress.com

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