McDowell County drug overdose deaths: putting a family with the statistic
Donald Reed sits by the grave of his cousin, Charlie Reed, who died of a drug overdose in 2007.
June 4, 2012 ·
The Centers for Disease Control says West Virginia had the second-highest rate of poisoning or overdose deaths in the country. And during those same years, 2007-2009 McDowell County had the most in the state.
“This is Charlie, we used to live just a mile up the street," Donald Reed shares a picture of his cousin, Charlie. "We were decorating our house at the time for Christmas."
“I think he died by the sword that someone else created,” Donald said.
Charlie grew up in McDowell County. Donald says most of the good memories of Charlie are during Christmas time. Charlie loved animals and an infectious laugh. But Reed says, for several years Charlie’s drug habits affected the entire family.
“But I will tell you, with addiction as much as I loved him and as much as I tried to help him," Donald said, "it became such an internal battle, such a point of contention in my marriage and in our home, it was a relief."
"To say it was a relief is really hard to admit that another human is dead and that’s a relief but any person that has dealt with addiction and knows what that puts a family through, it is a relief.”
Reed says Charlie’s stepfather was caught selling drugs, and instead of going to jail, committed suicide.
Then the state took Charlie from his mother when he was 16. He remained in the state’s system until he 'aged-out', at 18.
“We have children that really are crying out for help and they don’t know where to get that from,” Kathie Whitt is with the HOPE Coalition - the acronym stands for Health Opportunities for Positive Education.
Whitt points out that over 40 percent of students in the county don’t live with their biological parents.
“A lot of our children that are between twenty and thirty years of age don’t’ have that opportunity," she said, "don’t have parents that are there for them and they don’t have workers or jobs that will give them a second chance."
"So we see a lot of that age group that is at the bottom and with no way out."
Ginger Day is the Prevention Coordinator with McDowell County FACES, an acronym for Family Agencies Children Enhancing Services. Day says her biggest challenge is getting the guardians involved.
“I think probably because of their own addiction issues,” Day said. “They’re dealing with their own issues of addiction."
"A lot of our kids are not even living in the same home with their biological parents. Kids are being raised by grandparents by other family members by neighbors so I think that’s why a lot of the parents are not involved.”
Day says the parents were invited to participate in one program called Keep a Clear Mind. It’s meant to increase communication between children and their guardians about drugs and alcohol. Day says the response was less than disappointing.
“We had one school to respond, parents I think there were 10 parents out of 55 parents 10 parents responded that they would want to join in on this forum," Day recalled. "There were several staff members from FACEAS and several members from the HOPE Coalition and the Sheriff’s Department joined in with us we go to the forum, no parents showed up."
"That was big big huge let down. Once again the parents are not involved as well as they need to be.”
McDowell County is home to many good, hardworking and no doubt resilient people. But the county is also home to some pretty startling statistics. From the year 2000 to 2010 the county suffered the most average overdose deaths, per capita, in the state.
Charlie Reed became a part of that statistic when he died of a drug overdose on January 10, 2007.
Donald Reed serves as the Chairperson of the HOPE Coalition and is also a WVU Extension Agent, so he’s familiar with crunching the numbers.
“Grant writers and elected officials and people who work for the government we often read statistics all the time," he said. "Those are really just statistics and really meaningless unless you put a face behind those statistics and really that’s where Charlie comes in.”
Despite Charlie’s troubled, drug-infested upbringing, he was voted homecoming king his senior year at Mt. View high school. At 18 Charlie moved into an apartment in Welch.
“He called one evening and he said, 'I’m ready to move on I’m ready to get out of here and I’m ready to do things your way,' and that was his words," Donald explained. "I said, 'well I want to come see you.' I said, 'why now, why do you want help now why are you reaching out now.'"
"He said, 'well when I sit in my apartment and I see a 50-year-old woman combing my carpet for a piece of crack I don’t want to be old and end up that way.”
So Donald says he helped Charlie enroll at Mountain State University in Beckley.
After a year, Donald helped him transfer to Bluefield State College. Donald says things seemed to be going relatively well, until Charlie asked him for $500.
“I said well why do need $500," Donald remembered. "He said, 'well I was on Court Street; I hit a car I didn’t have insurance. I lied to the cop I need to go get insurance.'"
"I said 'well first I’m taking you to the police station and you’re going to acknowledge to the cop that you lied.' I did that and cop told him, 'well driving without insurance is a felony we’ll have to get a warrant for your arrest.'"
"I told Charlie, 'you’ve made these decisions; you’re going to have to pay for the consequences. I will guide you through the process but I will not bail you out of jail.'"
After an argument, Donald says Charlie left … for the last time.
“The phone rung and I immediately knew what was on the other end," Donald said.
"They had found Charlie dead in the dorm room of an overdose of cocaine, Xanax, and methadone which really surprised me because I had, had a conversation with Charlie not thirty days before about the danger of methadone and how that methadone mixed with those drugs used to treat depression which is Xanax leads to death."
"So I always have to wonder did Charlie choose to take his life or was Charlie’s overdose truly an accident. From that part we’ll never know.
Donald remembers the emotions and behaviors of family members that didn’t make sense to him during the funeral."
“He was a product of his environment and those who helped him to be that product were so upset," he said. "I looked at my grandmother who has been a rock and a source of strength and I said, 'why are they putting on such a show at this public funeral."
"My grandmother looks at me in her wisdom and says, 'because you forget they have to go home at night and realize they were part of the problem. You will go home tonight and know that you have done all that you can do and you have a rest and a peace and they do not."
At the grave site, Donald, hunched over wearing a maroon sweater vest over a plaid shirt, refers to his biblical teachings.
“The scriptures often teach that from the grave you still speak and that is based on your influence and your effect on people," Donald said.
"Even from the grave he still speaks.”
Charlie Reed died just shy of his 20th birthday.