Mike and Debbie Warfield (left), who lost their 24-year-old son Spencer to a heroin overdose, listen with others to speakers at “A Night to Remember, A Time to Act.” The event, Thursday night at the courhouse plaza, drew attention to the opioid crisis. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Mike and Debbie Warfield (left), who lost their 24-year-old son Spencer to a heroin overdose, listen with others to speakers at “A Night to Remember, A Time to Act.” The event, Thursday night at the courhouse plaza, drew attention to the opioid crisis. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Loved ones lost to drugs, but families keep up their fight

Before International Overdose Awareness Day, a local gathering aims to counter stigma of addiction.

Against a backdrop of dozens of faces, two Everett mothers spoke of the grievous reason their paths crossed.

“We had lost our beloved boys to drugs,” said Cathi Lee, who stood side by side with Debbie Warfield during a solemn gathering Thursday night at the Snohomish County Courthouse Plaza.

Behind them were photographs of people — young and older, poor and well-to-do, a diverse mix — who had lost their lives to an overdose.

In the crowd, too, were all kinds of people: the county’s executive and sheriff, a congresswoman, a judge accompanied by a woman who had been in drug court, addicts with months of clean time, and families forever in mourning.

Cathi Lee (left) speaks to the crowd as Debbie Warfield, having already spoken, stays by her side. Lee lost her son, Corey, to an overdose in 2015. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Cathi Lee (left) speaks to the crowd as Debbie Warfield, having already spoken, stays by her side. Lee lost her son, Corey, to an overdose in 2015. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

It was the second year for “A Night to Remember, A Time to Act,” an event scheduled just before International Overdose Awareness Day, which is observed annually Aug. 31.

Warfield and Lee have shared their heartbreak before. They keep telling their stories publicly, Lee said, because they realized “the stigma and secrecy is a hurdle we could overcome together.”

Spencer Warfield was 24, an Everett Community College student hoping to be a firefighter, when he died of a heroin overdose in 2012. His mom described “a fun kid with a great sense of humor,” an athlete at Everett High School who attended Washington State University and University of Nevada Las Vegas. His drug use began with prescription medications.

Corey Lee was also an athlete, an Eagle Scout, Everett High graduate and college student. A business major at Eastern Washington University, he was 20 when he died in 2015. His death came more than a week after he overdosed in his dorm room. He had been using cocaine and Xanax.

The Lees and Warfields had helped their sons through multiple drug treatment programs, but at the time hadn’t been open about what their families were going through. In their grief, they won’t stay silent about addiction.

Lee said her son’s overdose shocked everyone. “We had hidden his substance abuse well,” she told Thursday’s crowd.

Not long after Corey’s death, at a Snohomish Health District opioid forum, Lee heard Warfield talk about losing Spencer. “When Debbie spoke, I thought ‘This is our story,’ ” Lee said. Their families live in the same north Everett neighborhood.

Warfield said she had read a Herald article about Cathi and David Lee losing Corey, and decided “it was time to share our story.”

Photographs of drug overdose victims hang behind the presentation area during Thursday’s event. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Photographs of drug overdose victims hang behind the presentation area during Thursday’s event. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Overdose statistics are staggering.

According to federal Centers for Disease Control estimates, drug overdoses killed about 72,000 people last year — more than were killed by car crashes, or HIV, or guns. In Snohomish County, more than 90 people died of opioid overdoses in 2017.

County Executive Dave Somers noted that in a single week last month, the county saw 57 overdoses. Two of those people died.

Congresswoman Suzan DelBene, who represents the 1st District, said that while Snohomish County has 10 percent of the state’s population, it sees 18 percent of Washington’s heroin deaths.

Congresswoman Suzan DelBene waits for Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers to finish speaking Thursday evening before taking her turn. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Congresswoman Suzan DelBene waits for Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers to finish speaking Thursday evening before taking her turn. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Snohomish County Sheriff Ty Trenary spoke about law enforcement’s changing approach to addiction, including medically assisted treatment for some inmates. Through the county’s Office of Neighborhoods, teams of deputies and social workers connect with addicts to get them help.

The evening, which ended with candle-lighting, was less about statistics or programs than it was about changing attitudes. The word stigma was mentioned often.

“We want to make sure we don’t stigmatize addiction. It affects everyone, and everyone is vulnerable,” DelBene said.

“We know there is shame,” said Somers, sharing that two of his family members struggled with addiction. “My own brother struggled,” said Somers. “He’s clean, he got help. I admire him, his strength, and the people who helped him.”

Young men who knew Corey Lee and Spencer Warfield as friends shared their experiences. Jarett Jackson, the event emcee, met Spencer in treatment, said Mike Warfield, Spencer’s father.

“I’m sorry for your loss,” Jackson told the crowd of more than 100 people. “I lost my best friend Spencer to addiction.” Saying that “the opposite of addiction is not sobriety, but connection,” Jackson said he’d been 18 months in recovery.

Addison Pann, also in recovery, was Corey’s boyhood friend. “I’m in remission from a chronic, terminal disease,” said Pann, who shared that he was “drinking and drugging” daily before his family intervened and he went to treatment in California.

Lindsey Greinke Arrington is called up to the podium to speak near the end of “A Night to Remember.” She is the founder of Hope Soldier, a group that reaches out to addicts. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Lindsey Greinke Arrington is called up to the podium to speak near the end of “A Night to Remember.” She is the founder of Hope Soldier, a group that reaches out to addicts. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

“I’m a woman in long-term recovery,” Lindsey Greinke Arrington told the gathering. She is the founder of Hope Soldiers, a local group that reaches out to help people struggling with addiction, depression and self-harm. “The thing we need is hope — and moms like Debbie and Cathi,” she said.

Superior Court Judge Joe Wilson oversees Snohomish County’s adult drug court. “One of the greatest honors of my life, in drug court, is to call an addict my friend,” Wilson said. “Addiction is not a moral failing.”

“Addiction doesn’t make us weak, it makes us human,” said Angel Soriano, who has been a drug court participant. She told of heroin use, jail, inpatient treatment, and of going to many friends’ funerals. “I feel blessed today,” she said.

A good-sized crowd attended “A Night to Remember, A Time to Act” at the courthouse plaza. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

A good-sized crowd attended “A Night to Remember, A Time to Act” at the courthouse plaza. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

The event also included a resource fair, with representatives from the Snohomish Health District, Compass Health and other organizations.

There, at one table, was Gretchen Saari. In her 70s, the Everett woman told of losing two sons. Jeff Saari was 33 when he died in 2009. His brother, Ed Saari, 45, died last year. Heroin killed them both, she said.

“Now is the time to treat this problem with the courage it deserves,” Wilson said.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

Overdose Prevention

Night at AquaSox

An Overdose Prevention Night will be part of the Everett AquaSox game at 7:05 p.m. Saturday. The event will include messages during the game and 10 tables to highlight a new “10 Things to Know About Opioids” campaign developed by the Snohomish County Opioid Response Multi-Agency Coordination (MAC) Group. The game is at Everett Memorial Stadium, 3802 Broadway.

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