Speakers Provide Personal, Powerful Stories of Drug Addiction
Wednesday night's Substance Abuse Awareness Night had a personal message from speakers who have seen the dangers of drug addiction first hand.
Katie Shea stood inside Wilmington Middle School under much different circumstances than when she was there previously. And as she spoke in front of a silent auditorium full of parents and children alike, it was evident just how far she’d come.
“I did a lot of drugs in these bathrooms as a seventh grader and eighth grader,” said Shea during Wednesday’s Substance Abuse Awareness Night. “If only I had listened, I wouldn’t be where I was today.”
Shea’s powerful and personal tale was one of warning as she and other speakers told audience members just how important it is to frequently speak to children about drugs at a young age in order to prevent the dire consequences of addiction.
The Shawsheen Technical High School graduate spoke about her journey from drug addiction to detox and eventually where she is now – two years sober and hoping her story will help families avoid the same fate. She uses her experiences to work with recovering addicts in an effort to get them on the right path, the same path that she is now on.
Melissa Weiksnar wasn’t as lucky. She told residents the story of how her intelligent and outgoing daughter Amy died of a drug overdose on the day after Christmas in 2009. She spoke about the importance of speaking out when suspecting that a friend or relative is addicted to drugs.
“It isn’t about snitching. It’s about saving lives,” Weiksnar recalled being told by the friend who found Amy’s lifeless body in 2009. “We really miss Amy. I feel cheated because I was counting on having her around into my old age. Statistics say that if a kid can make it to 21 without abusing alcohol or drugs, chances are they never will. Unfortunately for us, Amy didn’t quite make it to 21.”
The event, which was put on by the Wilmington Substance Abuse Coalition in conjunction with the Wilmington Police Department and Wilmington Public Schools, was intended to begin discussion with the community in an effort to combat the growing problem of drug use in town.
Police Chief Michael Begonis told the audience that 90 percent of crimes that the department deals with are related to drugs in some way. Begonis said it’s critical for residents to know that the topic of drug cannot be avoided simply because of the uncomfortable nature of the conversation.
“It’s happening here. You can’t kid yourselves in thinking your children aren’t exposed to it,” said Begonis. “Families get destroyed by this. They lose money. They lose hope. They’re devastated by this style of life and you need to understand that no one wants this. It starts with the smallest thing. What I am trying to tell you is that you want to be talking to them before the first thing they try.”
Begonis said that while there is no “silver bullet” that will stop a child from becoming an addict, making family dinners a regular occurrence has proven to help. He also said parents should not hesitate to monitor the cell phone and social media use of their children.
Residents were given the opportunity to ask questions of all the presenters, and several took advantage. One resident in particular spoke highly of the event.
“I want to thank you for putting this on. It has been a long time coming for this town,” he said. “Whether people want to admit it or not, this is an epidemic. I think this is a start, and it’s something I think needs to continue.”
The auditorium at Wilmington Middle School was nearly full for the presentation, and during the emotional tales of Weiksnar and Shea, not a noise could be heard from those in attendance.
“The message tonight is talk, talk, talk,” said Begonis. “I want the whole community asking questions. What I’m asking is that you don’t let this opportunity go. Educate yourselves, your neighbors, and get this out there. You have to be engaged. It can be frustrating, but you can’t give up. You need to realize that you’re not alone.”
One Wilmington resident who attended the event said on the Wilmington Patch Facebook page that the event had the intended result for her family.
“I brought my 12-year-old who I thought wasn’t paying attention, until the ride home,” said Karen Thompson Grawbowski. “He had a lot of questions and comments. We talked the whole way home, a great ending to an informative night. Thank you Wilmington for caring about this community enough to pull this together. The speakers were excellent. I give both women so much credit for speaking out. You both made an impact.”