The event, conducted by the newly-founded Davis Direction Foundation, featured a lineup of law enforcement officers and medical experts who spoke on different aspects of the opiate epidemic they say is facing young people today.
Missy and Michael Owens, the parents of a Kennesaw Mountain High School graduate who died of a heroin overdose in March, established the foundation weeks after their son’s death in order to raise awareness of a growing and seldom-mentioned problem.
Leigh Colburn, principal at Marietta High School, said the seminar was intended to inform the community of the dangers of opiate addiction.
She also shares a personal connection with Davis’ mother, Missy.
“Missy and I started teaching together 30 years ago,” Colburn explained, adding some of their children are the same age.
“She’s an angry mother, that her child is gone. She’s done an awful lot of research,” Colburn said.
Colburn’s campus welcomed leaders from all over the county, from District Attorney Vic Reynolds to Acworth Mayor Tommy Allegood, for the two-hour event.
In honor of Tuesday’s symposium, Colburn said CBS Outdoor purchased 10 billboards bearing the Davis Direction Foundation’s anti-drug message beside a picture of Davis.
Rick Allen, the head of Georgia’s Drug and Narcotics Agency, delivered a lecture tracing the history of opiates back to Sumer, circa 4,000 B.C., and explained how the drug is derived from poppy plants today.
He then delved into the explosion of opiate addiction among youth following the release of drugs, such as Oxycontin.
“We had college-aged kids who were dropping like flies,” Allen said.
According to Allen, a coordinated crackdown on prescription opiates took many of the pills off the streets and made the ones in circulation very expensive, but left addicts searching for a solution. Many turned to the much cheaper, much stronger alternative of heroin.
“Thirty to 40 years ago, heroin addicts were the scum you found laying in the streets,” Allen said. “They weren’t your high-achieving children.”
Colburn acknowledged the issue has wrought havoc on the lives of many young people in the community.
“They are not savvy drug users. These are not kids who have used IV drugs,” she explained. “So you have an awful lot of accidental overdoses.”
Missy Owens stood at a podium draped with Davis’ class president sash to tell the story of her son’s descent into addiction.
Following a “fairy tale childhood,” Missy Owens said her son began stealing leftover pills from her medicine cabinet when he was still a student at Kennesaw Mountain High School.
Missy Owens described her son as a model child: a baseball player at East Cobb Baseball, president of the junior and senior class at his high school, Dean’s list member at Kennesaw State University.
Her story took a dark turn when she detailed the struggle her family endured as they watched Davis succumb to his addiction to heroin.
Exactly three months before the night of the symposium, Davis died of a heroin overdose.
Missy Owens said she established the Davis Direction Foundation to “remove the outdated stigma of opiate addicts” and to “become a national resource for opiate and heroin addiction awareness and change.”
One of the many issues she highlighted as needing redress is the quality and oversight of rehab centers, many of which allow counselors to treat addicts after a six-week course and few of which, she said, offer lasting results.
According to Colburn, 95 percent of people who pass through rehab return.
“It’s such a powerful physical addiction that the typical rehab doesn’t tend to work,” she explained.
Missy Owens, a school counselor for 33 years, shared the warning signs of heroin addiction she said she missed, reminding the audience how easy it can be to overlook such symptoms in their own children.
“I lost my son,” she said. “But I knew there were other children out there who needed my help.”
Colburn admitted the problem could well be plaguing students at her school.
“I’ve not seen this type of stuff at Marietta High School,” she said. “But I’m not ignorant enough to think that, if it’s at the high schools around me, and it’s being sold on Franklin Road, (it’s not also at Marietta High).”
“I do know it’s being sold all over Cobb County.”