Speaking up can save a life is the message of Tyler’s Light, which gave a presentation last month at Olentangy High School.
“This topic is as hot as any politician can bring. It’s on everybody’s lips,” said Wayne Campbell, who founded the nonprofit organization after his son, Tyler, died from an overdose at the age of 23.
A Pickerington North High School graduate, Tyler suffered injuries from playing college football, and became addicted to prescription pain medications before turning to the less-expensive opiate heroin. Tyler’s story has been featured on 60 Minutes and Real Sports.
“Heroin is only here for the simple fact that we have a prescription pill issue,” Campbell said. “Percocet, Vicodin, OxyContin are three names of prescription pain medications that are opiate-based. It’s identical to heroin. These are in everybody’s medicine cabinets. It’s a culture we’ve created — we’re an over-medicated society. If it were illegal, you wouldn’t put it on your shelf.”
Seven people a day die in Ohio from an accidental overdose, more than the number of people who die daily in car crashes. Other alarming statistics: 85 percent of all juvenile cases are drug-related; the top reason for emergency room visits is drug-related; drug addiction is more prevalent than cancer; the United States is one of two countries in the world that advertise prescription drugs on television; and the U.S., with 5 percent of the world’s population, consumes 80 percent of all prescription drugs.
“It wrecks homes and affects communities,” Campbell said, “but we’re afraid to talk about it because we think it’s a choice.”
Gary Cameron, a Columbus police commander and Tyler’s Light volunteer, said that 20-30 percent of people can become easily addicted to opiates, which he called a disease. In addition, “withdrawal is the worst thing you can go through. … Recovery is measured in years, not months.”
The book “Dreamland” was cited for pinpointing the rise of prescription opiate use in the 1990s from pharmaceutical companies wishing to treat chronic pain, at the same time as black tar heroin production started from Mexico.
“That’s when the floodgates opened,” Campbell said. “It’s the perfect storm, the worst drug epidemic we’ve ever had.”
“My son’s story started with a legitimate Vicodin prescription,” said Becky Wilkins of the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, a Tyler’s Light volunteer. “Never did I think that story was going to end with my son shooting heroin. I chased my son through the streets of Tennessee, bought my jewelry back from the pawn shop.”
Other drug gateways include alcohol, tobacco and marijuana.
“My son’s never gonna have a beer with his friends,” Wilkins said. “Alcohol lowers his defenses.”
Campbell said it can be hard to tell if your child is addicted, because some warning signs seem like typical teen behavior.
A video testimonial from a young woman named Emily said that her best friend’s speaking up about her opiate addiction was the reason she was still alive.
One new idea being tried in some central Ohio high schools is a “drug-free club,” which encourages drug testing for its members. The program is rewards-based, Campbell said, with the students earning school perks and discounts from local merchants. Another benefit of being in such a club is it gives members an excuse for not bowing to peer pressure.
Tyler’s Light was sponsored by Olentangy’s Parent Programs Team.
Gary Budzak may be reached at 740-413-0904 or on Twitter @GaryBudzak.