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FSA Joins Fight Against Overdoses at Florida Colleges

At 2:00 in the morning I heard someone knocking on the door. My husband went downstairs and opened it. I heard my husband moan and ran downstairs. I saw two deputies in the doorway.

The deputies entered the house and told us that something was wrong with our son in Orlando, and they needed to use our phone. During the short walk from our front door into the den I thought, “Dear God, please let him be in jail.” The deputy hung up the phone and said, “He’s dead.”

In a moment, the lives of Richard and Karen Perry were shattered. Their son, Richie, a 21-year-old college student, had died from an accidental overdose of prescription drugs mixed with heroin and cocaine while at school.

The oldest of four children, Richie was raised to love and support his family, be sincere, respect himself and others and to work hard and give back to the community.

“We were very proud of Richie because he lived up to all our expectations,” said Karen Perry. “He did those things, but he got caught up with drugs, and they really got hold of him.”

What the Perrys did not know then was that abuse of prescription drugs is an epidemic on Florida’s college campuses, and that their son was not alone in his addiction. One in five American college students has improperly used prescription drugs, and 14 percent have used painkillers recreationally.

Determined to use their experience as an opportunity to reach other college students, Richard and Karen Perry co-founded the Narcotics Overdose Prevention and Education (NOPE) Task Force, a West Palm Beach-based 501c3 non-profit organization created to deliver a clear educational message to students from middle school through college, provide treatment resources, support families and engage in advocacy efforts.

Joining them as founders were Captain Jeffery C. Lindskoog and Detective Gary R. Martin of the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, creating a valuable alliance with law enforcement that has now reached a funding partnership with the Florida Sheriffs Association to take their college program statewide.

FSA has partnered with NOPE to take its powerful Sometimes You Never Sleep It Off™ campaign to students at 10 of Florida’s public universities in the upcoming academic year. The presentations will be offered at no cost to the universities and will be tailored to include each host university’s unique efforts to mitigate the negative impact of alcohol and drug use on its campus.

It is a partnership that fits well with FSA’s mission to support local sheriffs in their efforts to protect Florida’s communities from dangers of all kinds. “As an association, we have implemented a strategic plan in which our No. 1 goal is to protect Florida’s youth,” said Sarrah Carroll, FSA Assistant Executive Director of Operations. “We’ve been extremely aggressive in protecting children from child sexual predators, including internet predators that seek out children, and this is another way we want to protect our youth, educate them on the dangers of abusing prescription drugs.”

The goals shared by FSA and NOPE for the Sometimes You Never Sleep It Off™ campaign include:

  • Raise awareness of the life-threatening risks associated with mixing/combining drugs;
  • Increase the likelihood of effective help-seeking behaviors among overdose victims and witnesses;
  • Educate students about Florida’s 911 Good Samaritan law (provides legal immunity to people who seek or obtain medical attention for a companion’s drug overdose);
  • Alert audiences, when applicable, to campus amnesty policies protecting students from expulsion for reporting a drug incident; and
  • Increase awareness of legalities of sharing medication and options for pharmaceutical drug security and safekeeping.

Karen Perry, who serves as NOPE’s Executive Director, says she continues to be amazed at students’ lack of understanding regarding the dangers of prescription drugs.

“Students do not understand the dangers—even adults don’t understand the dangers,” she said. “People are dumbfounded at how small of a combination can kill someone. They think of the movies, an empty bottle of prescription drugs lying by the bedside, but it’s just not like that. It can be as simple as one pill and a beer, depending on who it is. People are not aware of the risks.”

They will be soon, however, as NOPE delivers its dramatic presentations at universities across the state with the help of the Sheriff’s Office in each county.

“We are engaging the local Sheriffs’ Offices as the presentations are going on throughout Florida,” FSA’s Carroll said.

“We are encouraging the sheriff and the public information officer to be there to kick off each presentation. They also will be stressing the Good Samaritan law, which protects a person who is using drugs with someone who is overdosing from being arrested for possessing an illegal substance.”

The involvement of the FSA will dramatically extend the reach of a program that may not even be in existence without the support of their hometown sheriff, according to Perry.

“The Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office has been integral to the success and growth of the NOPE Task Force,” Perry said. “Sheriff Ric Bradshaw has been amazing, allowing NOPE to have Detective Martin and Captain Lindskoog travel to conferences, give their testimonies and do different things to really get the message out. We’re so blessed with all the sheriffs that are involved in our chapters across the state.”

The Sometimes You Never Sleep It Off™ campaign will be presented by NOPE, in partnership with FSA, at 10 of Florida’s public universities in 2012-13:

  • Florida State University
  • Florida A&M University
  • University of North Florida
  • University of Florida
  • University of Central Florida
  • University of South Florida
  • New College of Florida
  • Florida Gulf Coast University
  • Florida Atlantic University
  • Florida International University
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