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Remember their stories

Victims’ families speak on fentanyl awareness, prevention by Layne Stracener | May 12, 2022 at 4:00 a.m.

The chilling audio of a 911 call echoed through the Capitol Rotunda.

A woman had walked into the bathroom to find her 21-year-old son unconscious.

"I need an ambulance right away; my son just overdosed on heroin," she said frantically.

A video played of a team of paramedics performing CPR in an attempt to save his life, but ultimately pronouncing him dead as the woman cried.

The video was a re-enactment of a heroin overdose call through the eyes of the St. Charles County Ambulance District, played at a fentanyl awareness and prevention seminar Saturday at the Missouri state Capitol, presented by SAVE, a fentanyl awareness and prevention ministry.

People in the crowd wiped away tears as the first speaker took the stage. Gail Daniel, who helped organize the event, said the goal of the seminar is to educate community members and provide recovery resources.

After her daughter died, Daniel knew she needed to bring awareness of drug overdoses and addiction to others and provide help to those who need it, she said.

Drug overdoses are the leading cause of injury death in the United States. The U.S. has recorded more than 1 million overdose deaths since 2000, and more than half of those came in the past seven years.

"When I found out that there are more overdose deaths than gun homicide and car accidents, that was alarming," Daniel said.

More than 100,000 Americans died of drug overdoses between April 2020 and April 2021, a record high fueled by illicit forms of fentanyl, a potent synthetic opioid up to 50 times the strength of heroin, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data released Wednesday. The new data shows there are now more overdose deaths from fentanyl than there were overdose deaths from all drugs in 2016.

Saturday's seminar included many speakers with stories of recovery and loss.

"I wish I was here to tell you my successful recovery story, but I'm not," Marlena Coombs said as she began her speech. "I'm here to talk about loss. I'm here to talk about my loss."

Coombs' oldest son died of a drug overdose.

"I'm devastated," she said. "I miss my son. I miss his voice. I miss his laughter. I, just in general, miss him. In the grief, there's anger. Anger that I couldn't save him. ... Anger that one in 56 deaths in the United States is due to an opiate overdose."

If faced with the decision to use drugs, Coombs said, she hopes you remember her story.

"I hope my voice carries the story of grief and devastation and pushes you to seek help or just say no," she said. "I hope you remember you are loved, and you are valued, and you are wanted."

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