Everett holds public forum to discuss drug addiction

EVERETT — She tells her daughter’s story to show that it can happen to anyone.

Penny LeGate, of Seattle, shared her experience Thursday night with losing a child to heroin. Many of those who filled the Historic Everett Theatre were parents themselves. Three other panelists joined LeGate on stage for the public forum, which was hosted by the city of Everett as part of the Community Streets Initiative.

Marah Williams was beautiful, LeGate said. A rebellious side prompted her to dye her hair once, from blonde to fiery red.

She was “kind of like riding a bucking bronco,” LeGate said.

They traveled the world. On a trip to Vietnam, they met a baby girl with special needs at an orphanage. Her parents could no longer care for her. Williams picked up the baby and kissed her forehead.

She identified with people who needed a hand, LeGate said.

Williams died in June 2012. She was 19.

More stories like hers were shared at Thursday’s gathering.

LeGate still asks herself what she could have done to keep her daughter alive. She may never find an answer.

“It truly is a family disease,” she said. “It’s a huge struggle to watch someone you love self-destruct.”

When Dr. Richard Ries went through medical school in the 1970s, opioid use hadn’t even been measured, he said.

He is now the director of addiction treatment services at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. One of his first patients was a 21-year-old Eagle Scout.

“He was the type of man you’d want your daughter to meet,” he said.

The young man had been prescribed 30 OxyContin after a dental procedure. Not long after, he began robbing pharmacies.

Opiates are a different monster, said Randy Humphrey, co-founder of Bella Monte Recovery Center in California. A person can become addicted within a few weeks.

“There’s no playbook parents are given explaining what to do when their child starts using,” he said.

LeGate talked about the stigma for parents of those who struggle with addiction. LeGate used to work with a woman whose son used heroin. Addiction wasn’t something they talked about, she said. It wasn’t until they ran into each other at Parents Anonymous that they realized they faced a similar challenge.

“The ‘anonymous’ has to disappear. We could have been helping each other,” she said.

One person asked the panel what the community can do.

Wendy Grove, executive director of the Everett Recovery Cafe, suggested kindness. The Recovery Cafe opened in Everett two years ago. It’s a safe place for people in recovery to make friends and find support.

“When we don’t know how to help, we tend to look away,” she said. “Don’t see it as someone else’s problem.”

Caitlin Tompkins: 425-339-3192; ctompkins@heraldnet.com

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