ORANGE PARK – Everyone has been touched in some way by drug addiction, but all too often the users are young, successful and leave behind a wake of pain when they have overdosed or been locked in …
ORANGE PARK – Everyone has been touched in some way by drug addiction, but all too often the users are young, successful and leave behind a wake of pain when they have overdosed or been locked in prison.
Saturday, the Derek Hatcher Foundation, in partnership with Jacksonville-based City Streets 2 Student Athletes, hosted an event that was the first of its kind – Drug-Free Day in Clay.
The event, held at the Thrasher Horne Center, was aimed at parents and students throughout the county to warn them of a problem that affects parents and students just like them in Clay County and across the country every day.
In the midst of what many are calling an opioid crisis, Debbie Rizer hopes to help Clay County residents understand the unwanted side effects of the drugs for not only the users but also their families.
“When you think you’re the only one that’s, maybe smoking that joint or whatever,” Rizer said, “there are so many people affected by that, and it’s a never ending cycle that can only get worse.”
She said nobody starts with heroin. They will drink some beers or smoke marijuana first, but those decisions, she said, sometimes lead to the decisions to try harder drugs and poor life decisions that ripple through families.
Rizer doesn’t want any mother to have to stand at her side and tell the same story she tells, but she knows there are others. The story is familiar, a child goes away to college or gets involved with the “wrong crowd.” They slowly slip into addiction, but the parents don’t notice. “Not my kid,” Rizer remembers thinking when she first heard that her son, Derek Hatcher, was abusing drugs while attending the University of Arkansas.
When he was kicked out of school for drugs, she still couldn’t bring herself to see him as an addict. This is something she is trying to prevent for other Clay County moms. Through her story, she hopes to encourage families to notice drug abuse and put a stop to it before it’s too late.
Hatcher overdosed in 2016, but not before returning home and cleaning himself up. Rizer and her sister ‘kidnapped’ Derek and forced him into rehab where he sobered up and tried voraciously to prevent another kid from following the same path. “I’ll never be that guy,” Derek said to kids he spoke to at practices and schools in Clay County.
He repeated the phrase “just one line,” throughout his speeches, just one line, the amount of heroin that it took to get him started. He thought it would just be one, but one led to more and eventually he was sticking needles into his arms. He shared his story frequently and passionately before overdosing on fentanyl, an opioid that’s anywhere between 100 and 1,000 times as strong as what he thought he was buying and using, heroin.
“I miss him so much every day,” Rizer said. “We knew he needed help, but he didn’t. He didn’t think he had a problem.”
Rizer’s story isn’t a typical anti-drug speech. She is not leading the group in drug free chants, and not appealing to the agenda of a specific organization, she is just a mother, in mourning, who has chosen to tell her story. She is confident in her delivery, and the impact of her words hangs over the audience. The presentation is no-nonsense and it cuts to the core. No kid wants to end up an addict, or a victim of overdose, and no parent wants to see it happen to their child.
In addition to Rizer, CS2SA founder Rodney Blunt spoke to the audience, spreading his encouragement that kids stand up to anyone offering them drugs or alcohol. Blunt’s organization looks to get kids involved in athletics or other activities outside of school that will prevent them from even considering drugs. He wants to show kids there are ways to have fun without being intoxicated and his organization sees results.
The young men and women who travelled with him to the event looked up to Blunt, laughed at his silliness, and felt comfortable with him in a way they can’t with their parents. His goal is to be a mentor and encourage others to mentor children.
When Rizer asked Blunt to partner for the event, he was quick to accept, printing up t-shirts and delivering an engaging speech. He looks to expand the partnership and host more of these events in the future.
“My whole goal here today is simply to help spread her message,” Blunt said. “We want to get this out to as many people and homes as possible.”
The event also featured speakers including Wayne McKinney, who leads the detective division at the Clay County Sheriff’s Office and Carissa Kostecki, who works the emergency room at Wolfson Children’s Hospital. McKinney shared statistics related to narcotics, including the increase in fentanyl-related overdoses in Clay County. The drug is cheaper than heroin and used as a filler, or replacement, for heroin, cocaine and other drugs that are sold in powdered form. The problem is that this cost-saving measure carried out by drug dealers ends up costing users their lives.
Kostecki simply told three stories: three tragic stories from the ER focused on students who had overdosed on drugs at school or drank themselves into liver failure by the age of 20.
Following the presentations, all four speakers sat at the front of the room for a question and answer portion that continued through the end of the event. Though somber, the event was effective and well-attended, and Rizer is sure to continue the discussions until she has reached every home in Clay County and beyond.