Since January, families have sent Debbie Bockstahler photos of more than 200 victims of drug overdose.
And she can name every one.
“These two were twins,” she said, pointing out a photo of two smiling young men.
Her finger then travels to a pair of women in their late teens or early 20s, beaming at the camera.
“These were best friends, and they died within days of each other,” she said. “It seems no matter how hard we work, we aren’t getting anywhere. I just keep adding more.”
Bockstahler is on a personal crusade to raise awareness of the prevalence and devastating effects of drug overdose. Her goal is to prevent other families from suffering what hers went through when her son, Cody McCaulley, died July 1, 2012, of a heroin overdose. He was 28 years old.
“People ask me if this is in memory of my son, but it’s not,” she said. “I wish I could say it is, but it’s not about Cody anymore. It’s about bringing awareness.”
Bockstahler has planned an overdose awareness event to take place in Genoa on Aug. 31. She plans to have a live band, a speaker, and lots of handouts and information. Also on display will be the sheets of posterboard showing the faces of people whose families have contacted Bockstahler through her Facebook page, Drug Awareness A Mother’s Cry.
“Because of this cause, Debbie has been able to heal from all of the deep wounds she’s suffered over the last year,” Bockstahler’s mother, Stephanie Schnidt, said. “It’s so important for the public to get their heads out of the sand and look at their kids.”
Bockstahler says now she wishes she had known the signs of drug abuse. Outwardly, McCaulley seemed healthy, she said. He was the type of guy who didn’t even like to take aspirin, a non-drinker in a drinking family. He helped around the house, went to school and ran regularly.
“What we’re realizing is, it’s not the bum on the street,” Bockstahler said. “It’s beautiful kids who are going to school and being productive.”
Bockstahler said her mission was clear to her the day McCaulley died, when she heard a police officer use the word “epidemic.” In 2007, the most recent data available, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated one person in the U.S. died every 19 minutes of unintentional drug overdose.
Locally, there have been four unintentional overdose deaths so far in 2013, DeKalb County Coroner Dennis Miller said. There were 11 deaths attributed to drug overdose in 2012 and 12 in 2011. The most commonly-involved drugs were heroin, cocaine and fentanyl.
“I’ve seen an increase in heroin deaths over the last few years,” Miller said. “It had dropped off for awhile, but now it’s coming back. It’s easier to get and it’s cheaper to get.”
In fact, heroin can be purchased cheaper than a six-pack of beer, Bockstahler said, and the Internet means users don’t have to visit stereotypical “drug houses” or corner dealers.
Heroin users get their high when the drug binds to opioid receptors that control the perceptions of pain and reward. But these receptors are also located in areas of the brain stem that control bodily functions like blood pressure and respiration. Most heroin overdoses involve a suppression of the drive to breathe.
Dr. Andrea Barthwell, a noted drug expert who founded Two Dreams Outer Banks treatment center and is the medical director of Two Dreams Chicago, is the scheduled speaker at the Genoa vigil. She said the message must focus on raising drug-free children, not on managing drug use or ways to use safely.
According to data from Two Dreams, in 2011, 4.2 million Americans 12 and older had used heroin at least once in their lives. About 23 percent of people who use heroin become dependent on it. Users can become addicted after a single use, and can die the first time they try the drug.
Overdose Awareness and Prevention Vigil
6-9 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 31
211 Main St., Genoa
A speaker, live band and prayer service are planned. Families may bring photos of people who died from drug overdose.