Vigil remembers those lost to overdoses

By TIM SINIARD
Posted 9/2/18

A candlelight vigil was held Friday night at the Bradley County Courthouse in remembrance of loved ones lost to drug overdoses.The event was hosted by 64 Butterflies, a support group for parents who …

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Vigil remembers those lost to overdoses

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A candlelight vigil was held Friday night at the Bradley County Courthouse in remembrance of loved ones lost to drug overdoses.

The event was hosted by 64 Butterflies, a support group for parents who have lost children to drug abuse.

Angie Taylor of 64 Butterflies, organizer of the event, said those left behind by loved ones who have succumbed to drug abuse are members of a special group. 64 Butterflies, which is on Facebook, is  open to anyone who has lost a loved one.

“It’s an awful group to belong to,” said Taylor, who lost her son to a drug overdose two years ago. “But we get together; we can love one another.”

The gathering in front of the courthouse included mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, as well as other family members and friends who want to sound the alarm about the effects of drug abuse in the community.

Cleveland Police Department Sgt. Evie West said the job of police officers is normally to “serve and protect.” Yet, West said the role has changed.

“It’s saving lives, as well,” said West, who added she almost daily receives messages alerting her to someone who has recently died from a drug overdose.

West said many victims of overdoses are people who have lost their way.

“These are good people who found themselves in a bad place,” West said.

West said the growing drug problem in the area will be confronted.

“We are going to take our city back,” West said.

Heather Ruiz said many are falling victim to drug overdoses through surreptitious methods. Ruiz's son, Caleb Symthia, died from a fentanyl overdose on Christmas Day in 2015. He was 20 years old.

Ruiz said drug dealers are using pill presses to manufacture pills that resemble drugs such as Xanax. However, the actual pill may contain another type of drug such as fentanyl.

“People can buy pill presses on eBay and stamp the pills with different names,” Ruiz said. 

When she found out it was legal to purchase pill presses on internet sites such as eBay, Ruiz said she was angry.

“I didn’t know it was a thing,” Ruiz said. “They are stamping meth pills now.”

Ruiz said health privacy laws are preventing parents from knowing their adult sons or daughters have been rushed to emergency rooms for drug overdoses. As a result, many times they are unaware there is a problem.

It was not until after her son’s death that she learned he had had previous visits to hospital emergency rooms. 

“They just let them leave the emergency room,” Ruiz said. “There needs to be a peer recovery support system in place, so parents will know and be able to follow up. Just one pill can kill.”

Brian Keplinger, a minister with Celebrate Recovery of South Cleveland, said over 1,700 Tennesseans died from drug overdoses last year.

“We are the No. 1 state in drug overdoses,” Keplinger said.

Keplinger said his organization meets every Thursday at South Cleveland Church of God. It is a Christ-centered program that offers a place for those who are recovering from drug abuse to meet with others in a loving, non-judgmental environment.

Tenth Judicial District Attorney General Steve Crump said the drug abuse problem has become personal. He said he  recently lost a family member to a drug overdose and will be attending the funeral today and delivering the eulogy.

Crump told the Cleveland Daily Banner that Sheriff Steve Lawson was unable to attend the event because he was out of town to attend training meetings. He was driving back to Cleveland, where he was sworn in Saturday.

"He wanted to be here," Crump said. "He is fully committed to fighting this battle and will stand with the community to see  this ends."

Crump said the loss of a family member has changed his perception of his job. He vowed to double his efforts to stamp out drug abuse.

“This is very personal,” Crump said. “Until this year, I had a job. Now I have a calling.”

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