Brown County High School students are packed into the school auditorium. The freshmen and sophomores listen as three community members bluntly share how drugs have impacted their lives.
Barb Foley’s son Kyle, a graduate of the school district, died from an overdose in July.
“Meth and heroin are killers,” Foley tells the students. “Don’t think you can just try them one time walk away from it. Heroin stole my son’s last breath. It left a big hole inside of me. A big part of me is gone that can never be replaced.”
Samantha Taylor, formerly addicted to drugs, dropped out of high school when she was in 10th grade. She shared her story and didn’t hold back.
“I started doing heroin at 16, and it just went on from there,” Taylor says.
“It’s surreal to go to those funerals, to see pictures of these students who lived such vibrant lives.”
In the last few months, two Brown County High School graduates have overdosed and died. Superintendent Laura Hammack says it sent shock waves through the community and the hallways where the students walk to and from class.
“It’s surreal to go to those funerals, to see pictures of these students who lived such vibrant lives and now are lost,” Hammack says.
The deaths hit close to home, but Sheriff Scott Southerland says the community rallied and is calling for action.
“There was a movement started for Brown County to do something, instead of talking about the drug problem, let’s do something about it,” Southerland says.
The school corporation and sheriff’s department decided to hold what they say is a bold and honest conversation with students. It doesn’t stop there though. The assembly is just the starting point.
The school district also received a grant from AT&T for $10,000 to implement a new curriculum called Botvin LifeSkills. It’s an evidence-based program that aims to prevent drug and alcohol addiction, but it also touches on other social and emotional behaviors.
The program is being rolled out for students in grades nine through 12, but Hammack says the school district hopes to get funding to expand it.
“The curriculum starts in the third grade, so we would be able to then have the entire expanse of this curriculum in place grades three through 12, which is wonderful,” Hammack says.
Residents call on community to “Do Something”
Community members don’t know what to do, but they’ve adopted the phrase “Do something.” Southerland says he thinks focusing on students is the best way to stop drug use before it starts. According to the Centers for Disease Control this is one of the most at-risk populations. Heroin use has more than doubled in the past decade among young adults.
Southerland says he doesn’t want to see another kid overdose.
“I know that’s not realistic, but if we can help them, if we can increase their odds of surviving into young adulthood and getting past these few high school years, then their chances increase greatly,” Southerland says.
Taylor says she hopes sharing her story made an impact on even just a couple kids.
The 26-year-old was recently accepted into a nursing program and says she’s proof it’s never too late to turn things around.
“I think getting them aware and letting them know we’re here for them is a first initial start,” Taylor says.
Taylor says she sees herself in each and every one of the kids sitting in the auditorium. It’s an emotional and often lonely time for some students. She wants them to know that she can relate, and to show them that drugs are never the answer.
“I just want to let you guys know that I love you, every single one of you,” Taylor tells the students. “I don’t know you, I don’t care. I love you. I love your life. And there’s more to life than that.”
She says she’d like to see more conversations like the one held in the auditorium, not only for just freshmen and sophomores, but for juniors and seniors, and potentially junior high students.