By Pete Zamplas- More than 40 Henderson County teens joined on the Historic Courthouse steps on Good Friday, pledging to be substance-free and leading local youths by example.
Their rally culminated the fourth annual We are Hope Week in the county. The HopeRx-affiliated events at each school were an assembly, with a recent grad or others warning with first-hand experience about perils of drug and alcohol abuse yet also encouraging that recovery can occur with self-realization, determination and perseverance.
To prevent drug abuse and overdose, non-profit HopeRx warns of perils of trying prescription and other drugs — especially pain pills with strongly-addictive opiates — in public and school forums. HopeRx Ex. Dir. Julie Huneycutt leads the group.
The ten public schools involved in We are Hope Week are East Henderson High School and its feeder Flat Rock Middle, Hendersonville high and middle schools, North Henderson and Apple Valley Middle, West Henderson and Rugby Middle, Henderson County Career Academy, and Henderson County Early College.
Each school’s banner was signed by various students, during last week. They vowed to avoid illegal substances such as prescription drugs not prescribed to them, gateway drug marijuana, methamphetamine and other narcotics, alcohol and tobacco. Students put white ribbons on trees on their campuses.
The countywide student rally began noon on Friday. Those banners were draped on fronts of the 113-year-old courthouse’s six majestic columns. Banners were distinguished by school colors and mascots. Some schools brought at least two students per class, as student government and class presidents and others led by example.
Some shared their insights with The Tribune. East Henderson students are still reeling from the latest traffic fatality of an East student or recent grad, which happened before two Christmases ago. Derek Lane Miller, then a senior, was killed on Dec. 22, 2016 after a drunk driver illegally crossed the center line to pass a line of cars in a no-passing zone, according to the state trooper’s report.
Matthew Schmieder’s car sped and struck the pickup Miller was driving head-on, on Kanuga Road in Crab Creek at night. Schmieder, age 35 then, was convicted of second-degree murder involving felony death by vehicle, by a jury last week. He was sentenced to 16.75 years in prison, for an inherently dangerous act. Prosecutor Greg Newman argued in court that drugs and alcohol were factors in Schmieder’s fatal-causing crash. Further, he was still driving at the time of the crash after his license was suspended, for multiple crashes and speeding tickets.
Victim Miller was a “kind person and a great student at East,” EHHS principal Carl Taylor stated right after the fatal crash.
East Student Body Pres. Garrett Stiwinter and fellow senior Zack Adkinson told The Tribune before the rally Friday they still feel sorrow over Miller’s death, often think about it, and are upset that a drunk driver was responsible. Adkinson recalls many details he read about, saying the drunk driver was speeding 60 in a 35mph zone. “Scary” was how some younger East students at the rally described the fatal crash, and how it reminds them how fragile life can be.
Opiate pills seem more prevalent among area teens in the past three years, Stiwinter said. The two seniors were Eagle football receivers. When asked about performance-enhancing illegal steroids, Stiwinter said “Coach (Justin) Heatherly worked us so hard, we didn’t need steroids” for strength. Adkinson said a healthy diet and fitness are among alternatives.
Peer pressure is the focus of advice, students at the rally told The Tribune. Stiwinter noted a person can shun partying and other pressures, and still “fit in” with most students. Adkinson assured “good people will help you through it, as mentors.”
West Henderson Student Body Pres. Parker-Paige Boline and West Senior Class Pres. Natalie Stanley said a key is to realize there are many productive ways to release stress and have fun in free time. Boline sees “more good than bad” in peer attitudes.
Stanley noted that longtime friends might change by high school, mature less than other, and veer into different social groups. She said she urged a male platonic friend to steer away from a group of partiers. She said he seemed to not want to hear about it at first, but he eventually complied on his own.
She credits a “tough love” approach, to be candid and firm. Yet if too persistent in pressuring it can backfire. Thus a balanced option, she said, is try to “guide” and be available as a friend to talk.
North Henderson fiery senior baseball spark-plug Hunter Street said tough he knows no friends who “turned to drugs or heaving alcohol consumption. But I’ve heard stories of people I know from the past, who ruined their lives. That definitely impacts their future” in college studies and job hunting. “Think of the consequences, and know these decisions are very life-changing.”
Despair is a pivotal catalyst for someone to escape via drugs, he realizes. He noted that last week, a North Buncombe band member reportedly hung himself. He said after a baseball game between the two North schools, “we prayed with both teams in the infield, to let them know that we are there for them. We know what it’s like. North had a suicide last year, and it was very rough for the school. But we banded together.”
Street’s message to youths feeling down or lost is “just look for help. We are blessed with a wonderful school system, sheriff’s department, health care programs, and groups like HopeRx in this community. There are a lot of people to turn to, and find help.”
Hendersonville Mayor Barbara Volk told the youths at the rally how it is far better to avoid drugs and underage drinking in the first place, then to experiment then try to “stop later on” in a lifelong fight against substance abuse and temptations.
Honeycutt was recently appointed to the state’s Task Force on Sentencing Reforms for Opioid Drug Convictions. She noted that in HopeRx’s five years, opioid pills have soared in use locally amidst the ever-growing “national epidemic.”
Several speakers praised the students as bold leaders. Volk lauded the students’ “commitment,” and how “you’ve made your future” brighter. Schools Supt. Bo Caldwell said beyond the public honor, “integrity is when you do what’s right when no one is watching you.”
Sheriff Charlie McDonald said “you’re setting your course” for a healthy and productive lifestyle. He said, “It takes guts to take a stand. It shows courage and strength, to stand for what’s right.” McDonald said the student leaders as role models can “make a difference” in others’ lives, and help the community to “hit this scourge from every angle.” The sheriff has dealt with drug pushers and addicts in the community, years ago as an undercover narcotics officer.
HopeRx tips to curb drug addiction include hiding or even locking up medicines, and disposing of unused prescriptions.
Medication disposal is free at the sheriff’s center at 100 N. Grove St. 8-5 weekdays, and in five years has resulted in destruction of 5,514 pounds of medicine according to sheriff’s data. A drive-through pill drop-off at the center will be Saturday, April 28 starting 10 am.
Pills are also collected in periodic events across the county, that often combine with document/credit card shredding. TRIAD Henderson County helps with these events.
Next ones are April 27 starting 10 a.m. at Entegra Bank at 1617 Spartanburg Hwy/U.S. 176, May 4 at 11-2 at First Citizens Bank on Four Seasons Blvd., May 5 at 10 a.m. to noon in Flat Rock Town Hall, and June 2 also 10 to noon in Roscoe Green’s store off I-26 in Green River.
A new step by HopeRx is providing “hope packets” free, mostly through law enforcement. They list pharmacies that sell Narcan (Naloxone) emergency medicine to offset an opioid overdose’s life-threatening effects, and agencies that can assist opioid addicts.
Henderson County Partnership for Health (HCPH) developed HopeRx on the Project Lazarus model in N.C. HCPH seeks expanded treatment options, such as supervised access to antidote Naloxone to lessen risk of lethal opiate overdose.
Don and Julie Huneycutt have felt tragedy of opioid misuse before many others did. Their daughter Anna suddenly died at age 20 from a fatal prescription pill overdose eight years ago in 2010. They started Anna’s Hope in her honor in that year, then helped begin broader-based HopeRx in 2013.
Tom Bridges, retired county health director, earmarked for HopeRx money out of Tom’s Bridge to the Community he set up via the Community Foundation of Henderson County. The Free Clinics of Henderson County has been HopeRx’s fiscal agent.
The HopeRx coalition includes the judicial system, Safelight family shelter, Wingate School of Pharmacy, and healthcare providers such as Blue Ridge Community Health Services and the county health department. Park Ridge Health and Champion Comfort Experts co-sponsored the pledge banners. Pardee UNC Health Care like Park Ridge is a founding sponsor of HopeRx. Workers of another We are Hope Week affiliate, Henderson County EMS, realize substance harm whenever handling overdose emergencies.
HopeRx is based at 841 Case St. Julie Huneycutt can be reached at 1-800-662-4357 or via firstname.lastname@example.org. For more on HopeRx, check http://hope-rx.org.