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Parents confront heroin nightmare




By David Wecker
Post staff reporter

In an extraordinary meeting marked with heated accusations, frustration and tears, a standing-room-only crowd of Alexandria parents came together Wednesday night to learn about heroin and what it's doing to their children.
Convened by Alexandria Police Chief Mike Ward in the wake of the overdose death of 18-year-old Adam Messmer in early January, the meeting at the Alexandria Fire Station was intended as a communitywide intervention -- first to come to grips with the reality of heroin in the city and surrounding rural areas of Campbell, Pendleton and Kenton counties, and second, to try to find ways of attacking it.

Messmer was the third young man with a history of heroin abuse to die in rural Northern Kentucky in recent months.

On Oct. 20, one of Messmer's close friends, Mark DeMarrero, 19, was found dead at his parents' home in Melbourne of a suspected OxyContin overdose. Two months earlier, Casey Wethington, 23, of Morning View, died 10 days after slipping into a heroin-induced coma.

The parents of all three were at Wednesday's meeting, as were nearly two dozen other parents whose teens have struggled with heroin addiction or continue to do so. It was an unprecedented gathering for Alexandria, which in the past 12 years has grown from little more than a country crossroads to a bustling bedroom community.

It is a community of people who live here because they never imagined they would have to face the uglier issues associated with the big city. A crowd of 450 of them, including law enforcement and school officials and parents, heard:

• Dr. Mike Kalfas, medical director of the St. Luke Drug and Alcohol Treatment Center, say that when he began working there in 1997, he saw only sporadic cases of heroin addiction. But in the past six months, he said, 160 adults have checked into the center with heroin addictions. Fifty-five percent of them were between the ages of 18 and 25.

• Campbell County High School senior Tony Schilling admit that he had used heroin. Schilling drew applause when he exhorted parents to take responsibility for their children.

"My mom never caught me -- I think she let a lot of stuff slide," he said. "Parents, you gotta watch your kids. You gotta get in their faces. Too many of you are being too nice to your kids. Adam and Mark, they were my friends. I didn't want to be a hypocrite to my friends, and now they're gone."

• A half-dozen anguished parents tell of their teen-agers' struggles with heroin. Said one mother whose 17-year-old daughter is in treatment: "I should have seen her grades dropping. -- I saw how her hand would shake when she combed her hair -- I saw how skinny she was getting. The first thing I did wrong was, I believed her when she told me she wasn't on anything. Because I wanted to believe her."

Ward said there was a kit parents could get for free from Campbell County police to screen their children's urine for the presence of opiates, including heroin, as well as other drugs.

• Campbell County Attorney Justin Verst tell them that "too many parents have the opinion their child can do no wrong. Too many parents, when their kids get in trouble, try to get them out."

And they heard Charlotte Wethington tell of her son's tragic descent into heroin addiction -- and of her frustration at being unable to commit him to a treatment program.

Under state law, those over 18 with a drug addiction can sign themselves out of treatment programs.

Mrs. Wethington is the driving force behind Kentucky House Bill 192, called the Casey Wethington Act for Substance Abuse Intervention, that would enable parents to put adult children into treatment against their will.

Mrs. Wethington told a riveting story of how her son entered one treatment program after another, only to leave after a few days. She said she begged program administrators to keep him in treatment:

"Time and time again, they refused. On June 25, Casey had been clean for 20 days. Then he overdosed a second time. He told me he used heroin to celebrate going 20 days without it. That's what this drug does to people. I prayed he would be arrested and court-ordered into treatment.

"Finally, he was arrested in Indiana. Again, I begged the police to keep him in jail. But he was released on his own recognizance. The letter from the court ordering him into treatment from his arrest arrived on the day of his funeral."

She said her son once told her: '"It's not me that's doing this, Mom.' And it wasn't him. It was the drug. And it doesn't stop until it's taken everything."

Ward said law enforcement officials aren't sure why heroin has gotten such a foothold in the community. One possible reason may be the price -- it's cheaper than other drugs like OxyContin, he said.

At the end of the meeting, nobody seemed sure of what to do next. Some people talked about revitalizing neighborhood watch programs throughout Campbell County. Police said they would help any group wanting to attack the problem.

Ward said he was blown away by the turnout. "Now it's up to the parents to keep it stirred up," he said.

Mrs. Wethington said she wished something like Wednesday's meeting had happened when she and her husband, Jim, were dealing with their son's addiction.

"The people here are just finding their way," she said.

"I hope they pursue it and look for places where pressure can to be applied to make a difference.

"The state legislature is a good place to start."





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