(Photo by Karim Shamsi-Basha)
When my wife’s brother passed away, his obituary said that he died after a long and valiant struggle with brain cancer. When my son died from a drug and alcohol overdose, his obituary simply said that he died suddenly. Because of the shame associated with overdoses, there’s reluctance on the part of the community to talk about it. But until we start talking about it, the problem will continue as it’s swept under the rug again and again.
My son, Ricky David Norris III (Tripp), died from a mix of alcohol and street heroin on February 25, 2011. He was only 22 years old and a senior English major at the University of Alabama.
I will be talking openly and honestly about my experience with my son at the first Help the Hills town hall meeting on Monday, Aug. 18 at 6 p.m. at Vestavia Hills United Methodist Church. This is a necessary and much-needed meeting since Tripp’s story is unfortunately part of a larger trend. There have been several drug- and alcohol-related deaths in Vestavia Hills, and Leadership Vestavia Hills, the city police department and administrators at Vestavia Hills City Schools have seen increases in the use of illegal substances among students.
We need people to recognize that there is a very real problem in our community, even though it’s not something most would expect or even believe possible. But in Vestavia Hills, kids can get any drug they want at school on any given day. Heroin, in particular, is cheap and easy to find.
That’s why Help the Hills is so important, along with several initiatives that have been created to curb increased drug use, such as a new Drug Task Force, prescription drop-off boxes, and a voluntary student drug testing program.
By sharing our story, I hope to help make people aware that there is a real problem – so they won’t have to go through the same nightmare my family went through. If my words help just one family realize that they have a problem in their home, it will be worth it for me. I don’t have any magical answers or parenting tips, but by helping raise awareness I hope that parents and community members will see that we must do something about it now rather than later.
Attending the first Help the Hills meeting is a good place to start. Help the Hills was developed as a project by the 2011-2012 Leadership Vestavia Hills class. It surveyed community and civic leaders, law enforcement, school officials and residents to find out the extent of the substance abuse problem and brainstormed ways to address it. The program turned into a partnership between the City of Vestavia Hills, Vestavia Hills Police Department, the Vestavia Hills Board of Education and concerned citizens. The goal is for these entities to work together to address childhood/teenage substance abuse problems in Vestavia Hills, removing all blame and judgment from the conversation.
The first Help the Hills Town Hall meeting will be a forum of open, honest conversation about the program. In the next few weeks after the initial meeting, there will be a series of in-home meetings on various subjects. Each in-home meeting will cover a single topic with a facilitator to help move the discussion and be a resource for ideas. After this initial launch, Help the Hills will continue with cycles of town hall meetings and in-home meetings next year as well, with the next cycle beginning in January 2015.