School and Community — Fall 2013
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Cody’s gift: Son’s overdose leads to awareness about drug abuse
Heather Erickson


Jim Marshall wasn’t completely in the dark about his 20-year-old son’s issues that day in September 2011.

“There were mistruths. There were things missing from the house. I knew we were having problems.”

A 30-year-veteran of classrooms in mid- Missouri, and a college cross country coach aft er retirement, Marshall was no stranger to warning signs in young adults.

“I came in that morning and Cody was lying on the living room floor, unresponsive. My first assumption was that a dealer probably beat the living tar out of him because he didn’t pay his debts.

“Unfortunately, when I rolled him over, there were no marks on him. He was not breathing. No heart rate. I started doing CPR, which is a horrible thing for a parent to have to do. I called 911. They quickly got there and put the electro-cardio pads on him, and we got a pulse going, so I still had my son. At least at that point and time.

“We rushed him to the hospital and they took a quick blood test because when you give them all the symptoms and signs, they’re pretty sure what they’re dealing with. They’re pretty sure it was an overdose.”

As Missouri residents, where our status as a meth-producing state has become such a matter of public record that it’s joked about on late night television, assumptions are likely that an overdose would be due to meth. The fact is, while meth is considered the No. 1 challenge facing mid-Missouri, the runner-up heroin is the top killer. Since the death of his son in 2011, Marshall has made it his mission to bring the “invisible epidemic” of heroin addiction into the open.

According to a health advisory from the Missouri Department of Human and Senior Services (Feb. 21, 2012), deaths due to heroin overdose have increased steadily in recent years. In 2007, 69 deaths were attributed to heroin overdose throughout the state of Missouri. The number of heroin deaths in 2011 had risen to 244, a 350 percent increase in just four years.

Even more users survive overdose. Those with nonfatal overdoses face a variety of complications such as heart, kidney and brain disorders. Considering the life-long implications of such conditions and that more than 53 percent of heroin-associated deaths occur in the 15-35 year old range, schools and communities can not afford to consider drug use an adult problem that happens only in St. Louis or Kansas City.

“Heroin is on the rise,” according to Sgt. Shannon Jeffries, coordinator of MUSTANG, the Mid-Missouri Unified Strike Team and Narcotics Group. “If you step back and not just look at body dumping and homicides or overdose or anything like that, you’re going to see that drugs are the root of most problems, the root of most evils.”

Jeffries noted that years ago, rural communities could look to the urban centers along the borders of our state as the center of Missouri’s drug issues, but that is no longer the case. MUSTANG Drug Task Force includes sheriff ’s departments in Boone, Callaway, and Cole counties, police departments in Boonville, Columbia, Fulton and Jefferson City, and the Missouri State Highway Patrol, as well as the city of Boonville.

“Teachers and administrators are the true pillars of the community. You are the first responders. You see these kids every single day and you even see their parents more than we [law enforcement] probably would.” When asked how educators could help to bring about change, Jeffries gave a simple answer, “Reporting.” Once educators learn the signs, they should report directly to local law enforcement.

Some of the signs for heroin use are euphoria, followed by sudden nodding off , dry mouth, flushed skin, constricted pupils, slowed breathing (this is how overdoses kill), unclear thinking and memory loss, decreased decision-making and self-control, itching, nausea, vomiting and constipation, according to Narconon International, a non-profit organization committed to eliminating drug abuse.

Educators should be aware of the following symptom for general drug use, according to Narconon International: sudden behavior changes, mood swings, withdrawal from family members, careless grooming habits, loss of interest in favorite activities, changes in sleeping patterns, red or glassy eyes and a runny nose.

Jeffries pointed to everyday classroom behaviors that may be warning signs. In younger students, he suggested looking for “kids that are not maintained very well, especially when the parents are very distant from school activities, not allowing their kids to be involved.”

Since not every parent reluctant to participate in school activities is a drug user, the need for school districts to have open and frank conversations about reporting is clear.

For older students using heroin, Jeffries says they just want to sleep, “because it’s a downer.” In addition, he offers an obvious sign. “Track marks on people’s arms. Those are very, very distinct.”

These words of advice from a man wellversed in drug enforcement express the strong need for school communities to have an open dialogue about students who appear to be at risk. Creating an environment in which people who are “in the know” about the habits of users, their peers, may be key to help slow the tide of deaths due to heroin and other drugs.

One member of Missouri’s 97th General Assembly is leading the charge in that open conversation. Rep. Bryan Spencer of District 063, which includes Warren and St. Charles counties, was a classroom teacher. When he was sworn into the House, one of his first actions was to sponsor House Bill 296, known as the Good Samaritan Law.

Spencer, a 22-year classroom veteran, worked with the “kids nobody else wants.” As a special education teacher in the Francis Howell School District, he formed strong bonds with his high school students. In August of 2012, he lost one of those students, an 18-year-old who, like Jim Marshall’s son Cody, was body dumped while overdosing from heroin.

Spencer’s region of Missouri is no stranger to deaths due to overdose. “When they get in trouble, they are smart enough to know that they need to get help for an individual who may need help, who is overdosing. They try to clean up, but since they are under the influence, it may take up to five hours to clean the place up and the person who is overdosing has passed.”

Sgt. Jeffries echoed Spencer’s sentiment. “They panic, especially if the user is there along with the dealer. What we see a lot of times is the user doesn’t even get out of the house before they’re shooting up the heroin. In most cases, they’re not cutting it anymore, so they’re shooting straight heroin. So they’ll oft en go into their overdose right there in front of the dealer, and well…that freaks them out because they know they’re there, committing a crime of distributing a controlled substance, and if somebody dies in the act of a crime, then it comes to homicide, and so they freak out and that’s why they just leave.”

Spencer minces no words in describing the intent of the bill that some might consider soft on crime. Spencer describes body dumping as a situation that keeps overdose victims from receiving life-saving assistance in a timely manner because friends who are partying with the victim fear arrest. He sees the Good Samaritan Law as “opening a small window to save a life.”

HB296 got a hearing during the spring of 2013, and passed through committee with a 14-0 bipartisan vote. Due to time constraints, it was unable to pass through all of the steps necessary for a bill to be passed into law. Spencer is seeking a senator to mirror the Good Samaritan Law in the upcoming session in order to streamline the process and intends to pre-file the bill on Dec.1 for the January commission.

While passage of the Good Samaritan Law would help victims of overdose, schools are in a position to address the problem in other ways. Marshall advocates adding mandatory drug-education courses that might easily fit into health classes as a six-week unit. His website, www.codysgift.org, offers a variety of resources that can be used by families, schools and communities. The Missouri Department of Health recommends CPR training in order to assist victims of overdose until help arrives. Random drug testing to maintain eligibility for extracurricular activities has been in place for years. Drug Abuse Resistance Education programs, DARE, target fifth-graders in order to reach students before their first experiences with drugs and alcohol.

In the past year, Marshall has spoken to more than 100 organizations about his experience and the dangers of heroin addiction.

“I don’t lay down when I get kicked in the gut. This is my way of fighting back. This is my fight.” His hope is to raise awareness, open a dialogue, and do good things by keeping his son’s story alive. “If one kid walks out of here and says, ‘I’m quitting doing drugs or saving my friend from doing it,’ then my son’s loss just means that much more every day. It just makes his life of more value.”

Speaking about Cody, Marshall says, “My son was a good kid…He wasn’t shaking people down, getting in fights. He never got sent to the office. He loved kids. He was a skateboarder. Loved to skateboard. He’d give his skateboards — make me mad — he’d give his skateboards to young kids who didn’t have them and say he broke his, because he loved kids that way.

“I get really infuriated when people say it’s just rough kids that do it. No. I’ll tell you what happens is good kids start using drugs and then they become bad kids. Do you know that 80 percent of kids that get in trouble had never been in trouble before they did one thing. Took drugs. It changed them. I can tell you that from a living example.

“My son started stealing my checkbook, stealing my credit cards, took my granddaughter’s video games and took her toys to the local pawnshop. I confronted my son one time when I caught him doing that, and he cried like a baby. The educator and coach came out of me and I said, ‘I know why he’s crying. He’s crying because he’s trying to get me off his butt because some kids are good at that when they get in trouble.’”

Marshall says now that he’s learned more about drug addiction since his son’s death, he realizes that Cody was crying for a different reason.

“I know he was crying because, number one, he knew he was hurting his parents and he didn’t want to do that. But the real reason he was crying was because he knew he couldn’t stop. He knew he was probably going to do it tomorrow, too, because once you get addicted to some of this stuff like the pills, and the heroin, you can’t stop.”

When Marshall shares the message of his son Cody, he offers a simple way to deal with drugs: “Don’t get started. Don’t get started.” The words he wished Cody would have taken to heart.

HOUSE BILL NO. 296 reads, in part, “A person who, in good faith, seeks or obtains emergency medical assistance for someone experiencing an overdose shall not be charged or prosecuted for possession of a controlled substance…”

For additional resources
• www.codysgift.org - As mentioned in the article, Jim Marshall’s website carries a wealth of resources, such as links to national organizations, advocacy information, treatment and recovery, and social networking.
• “Drug Abuse Awareness: The Authoritative Parent and Teacher’s Guide,” Bret E Brooks, Gray Ram Tactical, LLC, bretbrooks@grayramtacticaltraining.com.
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