CHS students hear cold, hard stories of addiction

Robert Riley of the Missouri Network For Opiate Reform and Recovery (left) talks with Monroe County Comissioner Delbert Wittenauer to CHS health classes about the dangers of prescription painkillers. (Robyn Dexter photo)

She was a Mizzou student who struggled with heroin addiction and alcohol abuse.

He had spent the better part of his life in prison because of drug abuse.

She is a mother who lost her son to heroin.

These three people were the faces of the Missouri Network For Opiate Reform and Recovery, who told very personal stories to members of Columbia High School health classes on Nov. 22.

Several representatives from the organization told their personal stories of struggles with alcohol, heroin, prescription pain pills and more.

Robert Riley, who started the organization, told students at the beginning of the presentation that the group was not at CHS to scare students but to share their stories.

“We’re just members of the community trying to reach out to you guys,” he said.

Riley’s main message to the students was to stay clear of opiates and prescription pain pills.

He said that while heroin is very real in the St. Louis area, including Monroe County, opiates and pain pills can be a gateway for heroin usage in young adults.
“This is where this starts,” he said. “We want to break down the stigma and start talking about this and find real solutions to the problems in this community.”

Tracy Simon, the former Mizzou student and youngest of the representatives from the group, told her story of sub- stance abuse that began when she was just 13.

Simon tried heroin for the first time at the beginning of last year and was hooked the first time she tried it.

From there, she lost her apartment, her status as a student and pawned all of her be- longings that were worth anything to get money for more heroin.

“I ended up calling my parents eventually, because I was so sick of living that way,” she told the CHS students. “We would drive from Columbia, Mo., to St. Louis every single day to get drugs.”

Simon came home, went to an outpatient rehab program and joined a 12-step program as well.

She is now 21 years old — and 15 months clean.

Riley stressed that prescription painkiller abuse and heroin addiction often start with taking unknown pills.

“Addiction is crossing all sorts of socio-economic classes – it doesn’t matter how much money you have or whether you’re from Ladue or Columbia,” Riley said. “That’s why we’re here.”

Riley said that while he was not there to scare the students, he was there to be real with them.

“I get phone calls daily from young men and women where they’re out on the streets selling themselves to get high,” he said. “Heroin literally hijacks your brain.”

One in four people who try heroin become addicted the first time they try it, he said.

“It’s not a maybe – it’s guaranteed,” Riley said.

Riley is now several years clean, a college student, a dad and active in his community.

Sarah McIntyre lost her son in May to heroin addiction.

“I would have never thought he would try heroin,” she said. “My perception of heroin was that it was for lowlifes.”

McIntyre’s son, Tommy, graduated from Christian Brothers College High School and was only 23 years old when he died on May 29.

“It didn’t matter what he had to do to get his next high,” McIntyre said. “He pawned his dad’s tools and stole both of our wedding rings.”

McIntyre said having Tom- my home affected the entire family and every person involved in the situation.

“My son hated his life. He hated being an addict,” she said. “He told me all the time he didn’t know how to change. I don’t want any of you (students) to get to the point where you think life is so horrible that you need to snort heroin or take pills.”

McIntyre now speaks out against heroin and is the founder of Mothers Against Heroin.

Monroe County Board Chairman Delbert Wittenauer spoke briefly at the end of the presentation to let students know the community is there for them if they are struggling.

“I used to think this was a clean-cut community, and heroin and other drugs could never happen here,” Wittenauer said. “But this is here, and this is now. It’s an epidemic in our county.”

Continuing the fight against heroin and substance abuse in Monroe County, many community figureheads including Wittenauer will come together for a second time on Monday, Dec. 2, to figure out the next step in forming a county coalition.

They will meet at the Monroe County YMCA from 4 to 5:30 p.m.

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