The Edison High School junior lost her grandfather to the repercussions of addiction. She said her aunt “is constantly losing her battles with addiction” while a cousin who “has been battling addiction” for six to eight years has been clean for about nine months and is about to have a baby.
“It inspired me to help others,” said Reiter, the daughter of Robert and Tammy. “Families should not go through what my family has gone through.”
Kaylee Ries also has seen more than her fair share of loss due to addiction.
“I lost my father and a stepfather to this,” she said. “I’m ready to help the community and not sit and cry at assemblies.”
Ries and Reiter were some of the Edison juniors who decided to put their hope to end the opioid crisis into a class project. They organized a panel on the opiate epidemic titled “It Takes a Village,” an event Sunday that featured several recovery experts, Erie County Sheriff Paul Sigsworth and Kim Barman, whose daughter, Emily K. Cooley, died from a January 2017 heroin overdose. Several students, when introducing themselves, told the panel attendees how much it meant for community members to take time out of their Sunday evenings and attend the event at Kalahari.
The student group consisted of: Jillian Barker, Sarah Bursley, Briana Keysor, Vernon Kluding, Sam Lopez, Evan Nevills, Halle Patton, Ries, Reiter and Joe Stoll. Most of the students were involved in the panel for a grade through a college-level social studies class taught by Joseph Collins. Reiter said the first part of the class focused on “book studies” and during the second semester, Collins instructed his class to “put yourself out there” and make a difference in the community.
“We all put our hearts into this project,” Keysor said.
‘Everybody has a story’
Karen Russell, site director for behavioral health at Firelands Regional Medical Center, said it’s important for recovery experts to hear stories from people who are impacted by addiction instead of just being focused on “technical knowledge.”
“Everybody has a story; nobody is immune,” added Russell, whose uncle was charged with impaired driving seven times.
Kara Supina, a crisis hotline worker at Firelands Regional Medical Center and a qualified mental health specialist, shared many details of her story of being in “active addiction” for 25 years.
Considering herself a “latch-key kid” raised by a single mother, she said she “started using” when she was about 12 years old. While she hated her first taste of a Black Velvet beer cocktail, Supina said she was “instantly hooked” when it “warmed her belly” and woke up “the beast inside of me.” She later started abusing Xanax pills, which she found in her mother’s underwear drawer, and did several other drugs over the years.
“I had this demented perception that I was in control,” said Supina, who had the mentality of “I would do anything once” and convinced herself she needed to use drugs to be a good mother. “It’s funny how that demon of addiction can lie to you and be very convincing.”
When she was in the Erie County Jail facing three felonies, she started reading a self-help book recommended to her by another inmate. Supina, who said she was abused as a child, realized drugs had filled an “empty spot” in her life and her experience in a community-based corrections facility (CBCF) “helped me heal myself from the inside.” A CBCF is a locked-down form of prison which focuses on substance abuse treatment and education.
“I didn’t know what to do with these feelings; I didn’t know what to do with this abuse,” Supina said.
Also on the panel were Joey Supina, of the Sandusky Artisans Recovery Community Center, and Adrian Gibbs, behavioral health director at the Erie County Health Department.
Gibbs, who graduated from Huron High School in 2001, said she has lost about a dozen friends to addiction.
“I’ve seen what it’s done to their siblings and their families,” she added.
Tragic overdose death
Keysor wept as she shared how devastating Cooley’s death was for her and other Edison students. Keysor was involved in mini-cheerleading with Cooley, who used to baby-sit her. Shortly before Cooley died, Keysor told Cooley how good it was to have her home after her time in a rehabilitation program in Florida.
“I loved her. I idolized her. … So many people did,” Keysor said. “I was absolutely crushed. … This really is a community thing; it really is a concern.”
Patton encouraged area organizations to contact her to start Emily’s Scholarship, intended to give “a future to those unwillingly impacted by drug addiction.”
“I want to be Emily’s voice,” she said, whose video had the message, “Please, let goodness come from darkness.”
Barman, Cooley’s mother, shared the circumstances of her daughter’s death. Part of her story involved searching for Cooley when she hadn’t been on social media for more than 24 hours. Barman said one of her daughter’s friends notified her through Facebook that her daughter had overdosed.
While reading through her late daughter’s journals, Barman said she learned her daughter’s road to addiction started with in middle school, with roots in bullying. She reminded the Edison students that their words have power and they don’t know the many trials that other students are facing at home.
Cooley overdosed in an Ohio 601 residence. Her mother said the people who had been with the 20-year-old just prior to her death didn’t know her Cooley’s name and assumed she was asleep on the couch. The coroner’s report indicated her time of death was about the same time the group left the home for several hours.
“It hurts that they just left her,” added Barman, who is a nationally certified intervention specialist.
Barman told the Edison students they should “take the time to care and say something,” even if it will upset their friends.