EPIDEMIC

 

EPIDEMIC

 

Date: September 22, 2010
by: Michael Eng and Pam Eubanks

 
 

MANATEE COUNTY — Sometimes, Luis Lizardi wishes he had never moved his family to the East County.
Jumping on a career opportunity in Southwest Florida, Lizardi found what he thought was the perfect place for his wife and three children. Parks were pristine, lawns meticulously trimmed and edged.

The Lizardis settled in Heritage Harbour, with their oldest son, Justin, enrolled at Lakewood Ranch High School.

Everything seemed ideal — Leave-It-To-Beaver-esque. There’s no graffiti, no unsavory characters wandering the streets. Everything is pristine.

But now, as Justin, now 20, sits locked in a cell at the Manatee County Jail charged with 10 counts of burglary, Luis Lizardi knows better. He knows — far too well — how drugs can change a child. And he knows — again too well — that they are much more prevalent than many parents believe.

“After we moved to Florida, I saw (him) changing,” Luis Lizardi said. “I said, ‘This place is infested with drugs.’

“There’s other kids; they just haven’t been caught,” he said. “It hasn’t hit them (other parents) yet. They turn a blind eye.”

DOWNWARD SPIRAL
Justin was just a freshman when he first smoked marijuana — something the Lizardis said they just didn’t see in their previous hometown of Grenada, Miss.

“After we moved here, the environment changed,” said Justin’s younger brother, Christian, who graduated at the top of his class last year from Braden River High School. “Grenada was a small town, a good place where everybody knew each other.

“Here, it’s larger,” he said. “There are cliques, and everyone knows Lakewood Ranch was the school for drugs.”

Then, on June 27, 2006, tragedy struck the Lizardi family. Luis Lizardi’s nephew died of an enlarged heart caused by a drug overdose. He was just 20 years old.

“That hit Justin hard,” he said. “They were really close.”

But instead of considering his cousin’s death a wakeup call, Justin continued using. He began skipping class, and finally, the Lizardis pulled him out of Lakewood and enrolled him at Braden River.

Despite the switch, Justin continued hanging out with the same people who introduced him to drugs. Justin was arrested following a fight off-campus and charged with a felony. He was expelled from Braden River.

The struggle intensified when Luis Lizardi, an Army veteran, was deployed in January 2008 for a yearlong tour in Iraq.

“That was the worst year of my wife’s life,” he said.

Justin began using cocaine, prescription pills and more. Now a complete addict, he was nothing like the boy in Grenada — the honor-roll student who had been elected class president every year from fourth through eighth grades.

“We all know my brother, and this is not him,” Christian said. “He’s a totally different person on drugs.”

In October 2009, the Lizardis placed Justin in a rehab center in Ft. Walton Beach for three weeks. Doctors there diagnosed him with depression linked to his cousin’s death. They also told Luis Lizardi his son was a wonderful person and that he just needed some wins in his life.

After returning home, Justin tried to enlist in the Army but was turned away because of the felony on his record.

Luis Lizardi pleaded with the Army: Please, my son needs to leave. He needs to be broken down and built back up. If he stays here, I’m going to lose my son.

The Army did not waver and told Justin he could enlist in October 2010.

ROCK BOTTOM
Manatee County Sheriff’s Office detectives arrested Justin July 27 and charged him with 10 counts of residential burglaries and associated charges such as loitering, prowling, possession of burglary tools and grand theft.

A surveillance team watched as Justin left his house by bicycle, attempt to break into one home and then enter another. Post-Miranda, Justin admitted to 10 burglaries, including one in which he stole more than $36,000 in jewelry from a home in River Club.

“This is not my son, and people see this and judge him as if he was himself,” Luis Lizardi said of the arrest. “There’s no worse a feeling than knowing drugs caused this.

“My wife and I look back and try to evaluate,” he said. “What did we do wrong?”

Later, at the jail, Justin saw his dad cry for the first time in his life.

“My dad was always the soldier,” Christian said. “And when he saw Dad do that, he said, ‘I don’t think Dad is mad; I think he’s disappointed.’

“And disappointment, to a kid, is way worse,” he said.

Since his arrest, Justin has remained in jail while the legal process continues. Christian, now a freshman at the University of South Florida, said he visits his older brother every chance he gets. And, he is confident Justin can shake his addiction — with help.

“He prays every night,” Christian said of Justin. “And he’s been reading his Bible.

“What’s different this time is that he said, ‘I’m pretty sure I hit rock bottom,’” he said. “I do believe he can overcome this.”

His father agrees.

“Justin told me, ‘Dad, once this is all over and I’m a free man, I want to go to every person I hurt and tell them I’m sorry for what I did,’” Luis Lizardi said. “I told him I would be right there with him.”


A DIFFERENT WORLD
Although drug usage among teens is not a new phenomenon, Christian Lizardi said in many ways, the social stance on it has.

“I would say about 80% of all the people I knew had done something — especially pot,” he said.

Christian said usage isn’t the result of peers pressuring a friend to try a drug but rather something far less sinister.

“It’s a trend,” he said. “It’s like wearing flip-flops. And it’s going to get worse.”

What’s more, he said, many teenagers don’t even consider marijuana a drug.

“If you ask some kids who smoke pot, they will say it doesn’t do anything to you,” he said.


ANOTHER TRAGEDY
The Lizardis aren’t the only East County family that has faced drug-related tragedy. Summerfield resident Janice Spring’s son, Derek, died from a prescription drug overdose Sept. 13, 2008 — just a few weeks after his 18th birthday.

Today, almost exactly two years after his death, Janice Spring has still not run out of tears. The “what-if” questions still loom. There’s still no full explanation of what happened the night Derek died.

Only more questions.

He would have been 20 on Aug. 28.

After Derek died, Spring decided to take his story public, despite the social stigmas she would face.

“Somehow in my mind I thought I could do for other kids what I couldn’t do for him,” she says softly.

“My story should be this horrific, unique situation, but it’s not,” she said. “(Prescription drugs) are supposed to be controlled substances, and they are everywhere. You just think, please, please stop. If we could just get to these kids.”

In the days and weeks following Derek’s death, Spring learned that reality from one of Derek’s friends, who came by to visit.

“She said, Mrs. Spring, I could make one phone call and have anything you wanted faster than you could get an aspirin,” Spring remembered.

Even now, Spring hears reports almost daily of children overdosing on drugs. Because of privacy issues, they seldom are made public. She knows families who have left the area in hopes of helping their children overcome addiction.

“We have a whole generation of kids who know someone who has died (from this),” she said.


FAMILY EDUCATION PROGRAM
Manatee County Public Schools’ Steve Rinder knows the statistics well. The $35 six-week program Substance Abuse Family Education Program he facilitates offers group counseling for students identified for suspension from school because of alcohol- or drug-related offenses, or by court mandate or other referrals.

In the last six years, more than 2,000 families — with students ranging from elementary through high school — have come through the program, he said.

In the first week of the school year alone, 16 families came for the group.

“As soon as the drugs come into the family, they (become) the third leg of the stool,” Rinder said.
So far, Rinder’s efforts seem to be paying off. Ninety percent of the children going through SAFE have tested clean during a post-program drug test, he said. Rinder has no way to drug test beyond that point but has begun doing three- and six-month follow-up with families. Discussions there suggest similar results, he said.


INSIDE THE SCHOOLS
Both Braden River and Lakewood Ranch high schools adhere to the Manatee County School District’s drug policy.

The first offense for possession, use or under the influence is an automatic 10-day suspension (may be reduced if the student agrees to complete the district’s Substance Abuse and Family Education program). The second offense is a 10-day suspension and recommendation for expulsion. If a student is caught selling, buying or distributing, he or she will be suspended for 10 days with a recommendation for expulsion or reassignment.

On campus, Braden River High School Principal Jim Pauley and his administration team work to remain visible. They also target areas known to be hot spots for delinquent activity. And most of all, they try to remain consistent in their enforcement of the rules.

“All the schools have a discipline matrix, and we don’t waver much,” he said.

Schools also employ drug dogs, and administrators also can search students if they have reasonable suspicion of illegal activity.

“When we search kids, parents are notified,” Pauley said. “And we will. I always tell parents that I’d much rather they be upset with me because we searched a kid who didn’t have anything than because we didn’t keep the school safe.”

However, those rules, no matter how strict, apply only on school grounds, at school functions or at bus stops.

“As we know, society does not stop at the school door,” Pauley said. “And no school can shut out society.”

Each year at student orientation, Lakewood Ranch Principal Linda Nesselhauf has just one word for parents: Supervision.

Just because a child reaches ninth grade and can attend school functions does not mean he or she are safe from outside influences, she said. Although schools offer a supervised setting for events and studies, administrators and teachers there simply do not have 24-hour access to their students. The friends they make, whether at school or outside of it, often hold a larger influence.

Places off campus — such as soccer and baseball fields and even church youth groups — are more likely locations for students to use and access drugs, she said.

“I don’t think we have any higher rate than any other school,” Nesselhauf said. “Am I going to tell anybody there are no drugs at Lakewood Ranch High School? No.

“I’ve always said: Lakewood Ranch is a cross section of East Manatee schools,” Nesselhauf said. “So, if parents hear there’re drugs at Lakewood Ranch High School, then there are drugs in the community.”


VICTIM ADVOCATE UNIT ASSISTS IN TIMES OF TRAGEDY
It’s almost impossible to comprehend how Susie Brown can keep a smile on her face.

As the unit manager for the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office’s Victim Advocate Unit, Brown, an East County resident, is the woman who family members meet on the worst day of their lives. When someone dies because of a drug overdose, violence or other crime, Brown and her team of advocates are there to assist the surviving family members.

“We have at least one overdose a week,” she said of the drug problem in Manatee County.

Following a death, Brown will help families in whatever capacity they need. Sometimes, that’s making a few phone calls. Other times, it’s connecting them with other services available for grief counseling.

“The big thing is placing control back in these people’s lives,” she said. “Control has been taken out of their hands.”

A lifelong Manatee resident, Brown began her career as a victim advocate in 1993. And although most of her days are filled with heartache and suffering, Brown said the grateful phone calls she receives following her help make it worthwhile.

“I’ll get calls from families from cases I worked 10 years ago,” she said. “That’s what keeps me going.”

Still, even after 17 years, Brown said the work never gets easier.

“Some days are good days; others are more intense,” she said. “You panic when the phone goes off.”


OPERATION MEDICINE CABINET
The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office will host this prescription drug take-back event this weekend. The program is part of a national effort being coordinated by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Citizens will be able to turn in expired, unused or unwanted prescription drugs with no questions asked. The service is free and anonymous.

The event will run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Sept. 25, at the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office Crime Prevention office, 600 U.S. 301 Blvd. W.; and the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office District Three, 5030 U.S. 301 N., Ellenton.

 

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Currently 16 Responses

  • 1.
  • My name is Troy Schulte and I am the father of Ryan Schulte. Ryan and Justin Lizardi are cousins. My son Ryan did pass away in 2006. He died on July 27, 2006 here in Louisiana. Ryan's autopsy revealed he had a condition called "cardiomegaly". His left ventricle was restricted to less than 25% it's normal capacity. Ryan's autopsy also revealed he had methadone in his system. My son went to sleep, his heart went into arrhythmia and eventually stopped. While it was known by our family that our son was battling an addiction to drugs (mostly prescription meds) we were never aware of his heart condition. Also the coroner informed us that there is no possible way to tell what led to his heart condition as it could have been genetic and or drug related. The coroner felt it was a strong possibility that Ryan had this heart condition for a long time and the last two years of his life complicated things as he was more and more addicted to various pills. The cause of death listed in his autopsy report is "accidental overdose" but Ryan's family doctor as well as the coroners office agreed that the heart condition simply needed a trigger. The coroners office informed us that due to the fact that Ryan had methadone in his system they would list the cause of death as "accidental overdose. I wanted to clarify the information given in this article as to the accuracy of my son's death. I am not trying to split hairs but there is nothing to indicate definitively that my son's heart stopped due to a drug overdose by itself. I also want to clarify that I was not aware then and have never seen any evidence that Justin Lizardi's downward spiral was caused, accelerated or an integral reaction to my son's death. Justin was involved with drugs before my son died so to say it (the drug use) worsened his situation is PURE speculation.
  •  
  • Troy Schulte
    Sun 29th Dec 2013
    at 1:37am
  • 2.
  • I first want to thank the Lizardi family for coming forward and offer my sincere condolences to them as well as all the other parents that chose to speak up.

    Mr. Sears,

    I do not have any words for you but "Wake Up" and read the papers, news and statistics more often.

    Why do you say the parents are to blame? They did not raise them in a different home- send them to different schools- dress them differently- or prepare their meals seperately nor do they choose their friends for them. Peer pressure is a big issue along with many others. I lost my son on 04/18/09 at the age of 26 to a methadone overdose. Did he take too many? NO he did not. He had been on them for 5 years due to a herion addiction. He was introduced to Herion at a local EAST COUNTY restaurant where I'm sure you have eaten at many times while he was employed their preparing your meals.

    He started out going to a methadone clinic to get off the herion. I am here to say I paid for his weekly visits as I thought it was a miracle drug to make the bad drug go away. Boy was I uneducated at that time. After 2 years he moved out on his own and I refused to pay any longer as I thought he should be over the addiction now. He was - over the herion addiction and now addicted to methadone. 3 years ago he found a pill mill doctor that would give him double the amount per month for $100.00 per visit (CASH) and it would eliminate him paying $70.00 week to the methadone clinic. At this time I knew the problem was very serious as I was becoming more and more educated on the addiction sweeping through the United States with our youth.

    On 04/17/09 he wasn't feeling well and went to the ER. He was sent home 6 hours later to go to sleep as it was prob his meds making him sleepy. NO LAB work was ever done! The following morning I got the call that lives with me day to day. My son had went to sleep when he got home and never woke again. Cause - Accidentle Overdose! WHY? His liver was re-matabolizing the methadone and not flushing it through his body. The liver built up a deadly toxic level and sent him into respiratory failure. He was gone!

    I had just spoken with him the day before and he told me he was down to 20mg a day from 80mg in his effort to kick the habit. He had 2 beautiful daughters as well as a newborn that was born just 7 weeks prior. He had gotten a new job (as he had just gotten his GED and finished trade school) that he was to start on Monday.

    Instead - On Monday I was sitting at the funeral home talking to him and got no response. I continued there planning his funeral. This has been the worse 19 months of my life.

    And yes he was also a student at LWRHS but dropped out when he became addicted. Now he has 3 beautiful, smart, witty and intelligent little girls that will never know their father.

    On the other hand my youngest son whom is a senior at PHS this year just recieved an award for being at the top of his class. He has 3 years in with a very prestigious company and has been promoted several times. He has a passion to be a US Marshall or a DEA Agent and has recieved a full scholarship to do it. WHY? Becasue he lost his brother/best friend to drug addiction and wants to be able to work where he knows his job is to get as many drugs off the streets as possible.

    So on that note of sharing my story! My boys lived in the same house, attended the same schools, played baseball, football, BMX Racing as well as a modeling career and they ate the same food! Where does it turn into my fault?

    I blamed myself for my sons death every single day because I played the tough love with him the last 1 1/2 years he was alive, I blamed the kids he was with the night before, I blamed the mother of my grandchildren for not waking when he had the breathing issue and I blamed anyone I could. But I have come to realize it was nobody's fault but my sons and it started that night on SR.64 when he decided to try Heroin for the first time.

    I thank the Observer many times over and the family that shared their story. If it were the parents fault to put the blame then why are they lobbying and speaking publicly on such a horrible epidemic. The fault is with the doctors that prescribe it. I have not heard of one parent that has went to jail for not preventing their children from making an appointment with a pill mill doctor.

    These children come from all walks of life. They are the children of white collar workers, doctors, lawyers, judges, etc. You simply cannot blame us because that's make you the uneducated one. Us - the affected parents are battleing this problem together while also grieving for the rest of our lives. I cannot even write or type my sons name with out crying! Do your homework!

    RIP MY LOVE: Christopher Wayne Barnett 03/03/83 - 04/18/09

    Susan Ferraraccio
  •  
  • Susan Ferraraccio
    Wed 29th Sep 2010
    at 1:59pm
  • 3.
  • To the Lizardi famly, I wish you peace and pray for your familys' recovery. To the Observer thank you for shedding more light on this horrific problem of prescription drug abuse. To Mr. Sears please read our story.

    My family, too is reeling from the effcts of this trajic problem. On August 24, 2010 our daughter hung herself. She was 27 and had been addicted to oxycontin for almost ten years. She was a beautiful girl. She was an honor student with a GPA of 4.0 in high school. She danced ballet for 7 years with Dance the Next Generation at Sarasota Ballet. She played the flute and the violin. She dreamed of being a veterinarian; instead, she was a drug addict.

    A medical doctor in LWR (however it could have been anywhere) was giving our 100 lb daughter 180 oxycodone, 60 methadone and 30 1 mg xanax every month for a complaint of “back pain” for several years. Ten years later having used her monthly “ prescribed medication” and facing the horrible withdrawals associated with this medication she chose to hang herself with her own belt from a tree in a vacant lot rather than face a day with no pills.

    This speaks to the end of her life and not the agonizing years of a family struggling with addiction. We did everything from rehab to “tough love”. And we are left with a hole in our shattered lives and wondering “if only”. But the fact of the matter is - “IF ONLY” THERE WERE NOT UNSCRUPULOUS DOCTORS PRESCRIBING MEDICATION TO HEALTHY CHILDREN.
    Our daughter is gone but please take notice; this is an EPIDEMIC.






  •  
  • Kathy Zehr
    Tue 28th Sep 2010
    at 7:33pm
  • 4.
  • My family and I applaud the Lizardi family for speaking up. This can happen to anyone, anywhere, and at anytime. It doesn't matter...it can hit you. My boys are similar in age and we worry every day of the choices they make. We just hope they are the right ones. When the wrong choices are made, you just pray you have the strength to stand by them and hope that it's not too late. To the Lizardi family...we stand by you and know that with your strength, this too shall pass. God bless.
  •  
  • Lori Margolis
    Tue 28th Sep 2010
    at 7:11pm
  • 5.
  • Mr.Sears, you are obviously not a parent, have never been one or your children are grown and untouched by this terrible problem. You are also very defensive regarding LRHS. To put the blame on parents for this epidemic of availability of drugs to young people is showing that you are completely out of touch with the existing and growing problem of what has become a terrible cancer and is depriving us of our most valuable asset, our youth. There was an article in the St. Pete. Times on Sunday, complete with pictures of some of the "so called physicians" that are getting rich, not only selling prescriptions to Florida residents, but also to out of state people as well. I know this is true as I have sat and walked in the parking lot of a "Pill Mill" in Palmetto and taken pictures of out of state license plates of "patients" there to get their prescriptions, so they can go back to Kentucky, Tennessee, Michigan, Indiana and more and sell these pills. Many of them were so strung out by the time they got to this "clinic" they were shivering and puking in the parking lot. Kind of scary to think they drove here. There were 4-5 people per car and some of them had their coolers in the back of the car and it was like a tailgate party. The parking lot was almost always packed, to the detriment of the other legal tenants. There was a security guard patroleing the lot, a large man that wore a black t-shirt with SECURITY in large letters on it. This is an all cash business and I suppose they needed a security guard to prevent problems.

    I'm a grandmother and a great grandmother, I have no ax to grind with LRHS or with you, however, you really need to research this problem. I spent time at this place until it was shut down because these pill pushers are supposed to be a member of one of our more trusted professions. Maybe you should look into this and maybe use some of your time and energy to help get our politicians to enact a law similar to the ones in the states where all of these out of state cars are coming from. They are coming here because these drugs are not available in their states, they have a law and a database that is available to us, unfortunately, we don't have funding for it yet.....go figure!!!! By the way.....it's shoddy, not shotty
  •  
  • Sandy Wesenberg
    Tue 28th Sep 2010
    at 12:11am
  • 6.
  • My name is Audrey I am 20 years old and have lost a few friends due to drugs. One of my best friends Derek Spring passed away on my birthday 9/13/2008. Derek was a great guy, very outgoing and funny! He had had great parents who loved him very much and a little sister who looked up to him. It was not his parents fault that he started drugs he had a good life, a nice home and tons friends. When Derek passed everyone kind of got a wake up call that it could even happen to them. One month later my older sister overdosed. I found her on her bedroom floor gasping for her last breath, so I began to give her CPR which I learned in high school at Lakewood Ranch. I was breathing for her until the paramedics arrived. She was rushed to the hospital and brought back to life. She was in the intensive care unit for a week. When she had all the tubes in her nose and mouth i decided to take a picture of her so when she was better she could see that she never wants that to happen to her again. My sister is very loved and she is my best friend. I thank God and Derek everyday for being on my side to save my sister. So there is no need to blame parents for their children doing drugs. I as a "child" know we don't listen to our parents all the time and they can't hold our hands forever, we as young adults can make our on choices. Sometimes they aren't the best ones but that is what life is all about.

    Rest In Peace Derek Gregory Spring
    you are truly missed and forever in our hearts
    8.28.90 - 9.13.08 <3

    for any one who has a drug problem GET HELP save yourself your life is not worth just one little pill!
  •  
  • Audrey Dinkel
    Mon 27th Sep 2010
    at 8:48pm
  • 7.
  • Thank you Observer for this article, "Epidemic". It is unfortunate to see that some who read it took it as an assault on Lakewood Ranch High School. I did not find the quote from the young man to be inappropraite or out of context. It was simply his perspective and I could only hope and pray that it is somewhat misguided. The unfortunate truth is that we do, in fact, have a real epidemic blooming in our midst. I am a member of Manatee County Substance Abuse Coaliton and the statistics are alarming. I myself have been living with the shame and guilt of having not one, but two sons addicted to prescription drugs. There is plenty of blame to go around, but until we stop blaming and start recognizing the need for real help in this community, we will see the continued downward spiral of "some" of our youth. My sons, now age 25 and 22, are in long term treatment by the grace of God, and I hold on to great hope for their future health and sobriety. I pray that no parent should have to indure the horror of "PRESRIPTION DRUG" addiction.( p.s.both of my sons were promising athletes, average students and the most important thing in my life, Mr. Sears.)
  •  
  • toni bush
    Mon 27th Sep 2010
    at 8:02pm
  • 8.
  • My son was arrested September 5, 2010 on similiar
    charges. He is an opiate addict - prescription opiates sold on the streets, in our school, or at the park. Burglary was his futile attempt to fund that addiction. You may be thinking, "just another addict removed from the streets." I urge you to think again.
    >
    > In 2006 over 22.6 million Americans were classified with either substance abuse or alcohol abuse, yet only 4 million reported receiving treatment for their addiction. With so many people in need, why can’t we provide adequate treatment?
    >
    > In February 2010, my son voluntarily walked into Manatee Glens in-patient addiction facility - a state funded hospital - on 26th Ave E in Bradenton. After completing a questionairre and meeting with the intake nurse he was advised that "[he} is not addicted enough" to receive their services.
    >
    > The most notable physical characteristic of addiction is the affect it has on brain chemistry. Repeated abuse rewires the brain making rational thought difficult if not impossible.

    > Manatee Glens boasts that their facilities and care provide turning points for individuals plagued by substance abuse. The decision that my son was not addicted enough to receive in-patient treatment was quite a turning point for him.
    >
    > The addict brain is easily convinced by society that they are a lost cause condemned to a life of drug use and crime. When addicts realize they can't control their addiction and reach out for help, there is a very shallow window of opportunity to begin a treatment program. Manatee Glens slammed that window shut for this young man. With impaired ability to process rational thought, the addict returns to what makes them feel good – their drug of choice. And that is exactly where he turned following his consultation at Manatee Glens.
    >
    > Addiction knows no boundaries and is present in every race, religion, and socio-economic background. Studies show that 1 in 4 Americans is somehow affected by addiction. Look around your office. How many of your colleagues are struggling with addiction - either their own or that of a loved one.

    Although addiction was first recognized as a debilitating yet treatable disorder by the American Medical Association in 1956, it is still viewed by many as a condition of choice.
    >
    > Society prefers to turn a blind eye, pretending addiction is the result of weak willed individuals and bad decision making. If acknowledged at all, addicts are discounted as useless criminals and someone else’s problem. Manatee Glens had the opportunity to save this young man and they refused.
    >
    > Society must put an end to the stigma and discrimination associated with addiction. Treatment and long term care are essential for addicts to carry out the day to day functions that most people take for granted. It is crucial that we create a wide array of easily accessible treatment options. After all, these are not nameless faceless beings – they are our parents, siblings, children, and friends struggling to survive. They are our past, present, and future.
  •  
  • Laura Tanksley
    Mon 27th Sep 2010
    at 6:40pm
  • 9.
  • I am a parent who had two children who attended Lakewood Ranch. One child graduated with honors and another who did not. One child never smoked or took a drug the other did both. One child at 22 yrs old does not drink or do drugs, the other at 20 has been 14 months sober after an addiction to prescription drugs. Is the school to blame, are we as parents to blame or is this epidemic of prescription drugs to blame? How about this, lets stop blaming and face the reality? Lakewood Ranch is infested with prescription drugs. Please do your homework. Go daily to Manatee County Sheriff and read the daily arrest reports. Each day you will see "good" kids being arrested. "Good" kids just like yours who made the decision to try that pill just once and become addicted. "Good" kids who live in Lakewood Ranch, Greenbrook, River Club and Heritage Harbour.
    Why does someone like Ms. Spring come public and share her grief? She does it because she does not want another parent to live through the hell that she lives each day.
    So, I am a parent whose children attended Lakewood Ranch. I am a parent who left and will never look back at the town that was my home fir 20 years and now is just a sad reminder of what my home was before prescription drugs took control. Please wake up before we lose one more child. Stop blaming, become educated and stop the destruction of our kids and your community.
    Terri Hesemann
  •  
  • terri hesemann
    Sun 26th Sep 2010
    at 9:06pm
  • 10.
  • I would like to thank the staff of The Observer for your article "Epidemic" and for reporting on such a sinister problem in our society today, the prevalence of prescription drugs and their abuse. As I read the initial comments criticizing your topic and the specific quotes chosen, I am saddened by the quick judgment and especially the misinterpretation of the issue. It is unfortunate that only one school was the focus when so many schools in this country have similar problems and deaths and devastated parents who thought they were involved, who thought they provided all the guidance necessary to help their children make wise choices.

    I applaud the parents who came forth to tell their story as it is a painful one. I know the stigma associated with sharing a child's addiction and yet there are wonderful people in our county, in our state, in our country, who work tirelessly to educate and to help the bereaved. Thank God for them. I am a parent who lost an adult child due to an accidental overdose. In my son's case it was a pain patch designed for transdermal use which he ingested -- this was a new story to me. Pain patches that are used for terminally ill patients are now on the street and extremely addictive and dangerous. The loss of a child is devastating and that child will never be forgotten by his or her parents. I hope we can celebrate their memory and possibly help another by telling our story of tragic loss.

    Finally, I applaud our community, the county and the school employees who are vigilant and educated and willing to work toward a solution rather than a judgment! Thank you to the editor of The Observer for taking the risk to report on an important story, which like it or not, affects us all.
  •  
  • Linda Lawrence
    Sun 26th Sep 2010
    at 4:10pm
  • 11.
  • I have recently read a current article in Time magazine regarding the drug addiction epidemic in our country. A mother whose son became addictied to oxycontin that was prescribed to him during cancer treatment was quoted. He is now a drug addict. She said she wished her son had cancer instead because people understood cancer and they had a lot more support ! Drug addiciton is a NIGHTMARE. I applaud the East County Observer for publishing an article with depth on a topic that is affecting many. Since it is an article in a Lakewood Ranch newspaper, it is natural that the article would be geared to the high schools in that area. I know many people who live out East that were involved parents...baseball, music lessons, church, PTA, family outings. They too, have children who are addicited to drugs. This is not always about parenting, just as often this is adolescent curiosity. In this era, the same type of teenage personality that would experiment with a beer or marijuana with their friends during high school years is now experimenting with pain killers that are HIGHLY ADDICTIVE. I encourage everyone to do their own research on the effects of the new drugs that are being distributed to our youth. Whether you are directly affected by a child or relative who is addicted or a victim of a crime committed by someone under the influence of one of these drugs...this should be of great importance to you. The more affluent the area, the greater the chance of a large supply in that area. Thank you to the East County Observer for making citizens out east aware of a very serious problem that is at EPIDEMIC proportion. I urge everyone to support the efforts of FAADA ( Families Against Addictive Drug Abuse) to get these drugs off the streets and out of ALL communiites. In my eyes, the East County Observer took a step away from the fluffy "positive public relations journalism" and gave us a dose of much needed tough reality. Thanks for an enlightening article.
  •  
  • Roseann O'Brien
    Sat 25th Sep 2010
    at 11:32pm
  • 12.
  • People need to wake up. I run a parent bereavement group in Manatee County. DRUGS are the #1 cause of death in the group. Let me say it is very sad to sit on the other side of the fence with the grieving parents whose child has died of an unintentional overdoes. Most parents have absolutely no idea what is happening in East County/Lakewood Ranch area as well as thru-out the state and the united states. People are shocked when they realize their child is dead and they didn't even know they had touched a prescription drug. Heroin is back folks, Methadone is out on the street (this used to be what they used for heroin addicts, remember the methadone clinics?). Now the drug is used for "pain management for cancer patient's." It has hit the streets along with snorting Oxycontin. Compined together it is a lethal combination causing children to die immediately from respiratory failure. Also, people are cutting up pain patches and eating them. They are so strong(fentenyl patches also used for pain management, chronic pain) that people are stealing them off cancer patient's and coma patient's in nursing homes , where I work and leaving the patient's completely without any pain management, or they simply replace the new one just placed on the patient with the old ones that have worn out after 3 days. It's time everyone woke up. We need to be routinely drug testing our kids so they know we are watching. Also check your medicine cabinet. Did you know your prescription "dental pain meds" are worth 18.00 a pill?
  •  
  • linda Murillo
    Sat 25th Sep 2010
    at 4:34pm
  • 13.
  • I can only imagine how difficult it was for The Observer & the Lizardi family to touch on such painful issues as those addressed in the story Epidemic. Those of us who have been touched by substance abuse know the courage it took for the Lizardi family to share their agonizing story. Thank you.

    In fairness to The Observer, they were only quoting the Lizardi teen's response that LWRH was known as a place you could get drugs and please consider that every week The Observer does stories chronicling the many wonderful accomplishments of our area teens, the majority of whom (including the Lizardi's son Christian) work very hard to live honorable lives & make good choices. I am sure this article was not intended to take anything away from the many admirable LWRH student who we are privileged to have as a part of our community. I personally know many families who have lost children to addiction or death by prescription drugs & I have never heard a single one of them say they blamed their child's school. We do not.

    I knew when I went public with my son's story that I, as a parent, would face harsh judgement and blame from some individuals. Nothing is worse than the blame I put on myself; I don't know anyone who has lost a child this way who does not beat themselves up every day. It is a painful way to live. Ultimately I decided sharing our son's story in the hope that it will help another young person make a better decision is more important than our pain or shame.

    Your paper landed on the doorstep of families in our community suffering in silence who are in similar situations as the Lizardi family or my family. Although I doubt you will hear from them, I know some will join me in thanking The Observer for shining a light on this problem, an affliction that despite the stigma & prejudice, shows no prejudice to any walk of life, social status, or background. I agree this problem is not specific to our area, it is a nationwide problem. The difference is that we live in a community that cares enough to try to do something about it. We can't fix what we do not acknowledge.
  •  
  • Janice Spring
    Sat 25th Sep 2010
    at 4:02pm
  • 14.
  • I am sorry that I don't agree with these other comments. It is a proven fact that peer pressure far outweighs parental influences! Lakewood Ranch was promoted as a planned community ... a paradise of luxury and comfort ... every possible material pleasure available. The image was simply a fabrication of imagination. It only stands to reason when you surround yourselves and your children in a artificial envelope you are bound to find out the reality of life.
  •  
  • David McGowan
    Fri 24th Sep 2010
    at 3:31pm
  • 15.
  • First of all let me say that I am very sorry for the parents who have had to go through an ordeal with drugs the way that you described. I can only imagine how difficult that must be. That said, it is a very unfair representation that you made of Lakewood Ranch High School. I have no doubt that ANY school you survey, be it public or private, will have some issue with drugs. To imply, the way your article did, that Lakewood Ranch is particulary worse is a great disservice to our children that attend and are working hard and representing their school very well.
    I spoke with the school resource officer to quiz him because I didn't want to speak out of turn without something to back it up. He said he is in touch with resource officers at other high schools and from middle school through high school it is a societal problem. Did you find any research to suggest that LRHS is the place to go for drugs, or simply use an inflamatory quote from a hurting family member.
    I think you should do some actual investigating before you call your article and investigation.
  •  
  • Samantha Slade
    Fri 24th Sep 2010
    at 8:32am
  • 16.
  • What unbelievable and shotty journalism on display! The reporters on this "Epidemic" story have totally missed the mark. You want to know what the real epidemic is? Stop blaming schools and "outside sources" and start taking aim on the real problem. Parents. Let's hold parents accountable who don't supervise their kids, who don't take an interest in what they're involved in and those that want everybody but themselves to raise their kids. And finally, don't use a misguided quote that "everybody knows that Lakewood Ranch is the drug school" without using in it's proper context. Did you check with all of the Lakewood Ranch parents (past and present) and see how there kids were?

    Get it right, please!
  •  
  • Scott Sears
    Thu 23rd Sep 2010
    at 1:50pm
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