EVERETT — A handwritten note on the whiteboard in Spencer Warfield’s bedroom laid out the challenge: scoring 98 percent or higher on an upcoming national firefighter’s exam.
Sitting nearby was the Everett fire chief’s badge once worn by his great-grandfather, William A. Kidder, given to him when he was 2.
As a student at Everett Community College in the fall of 2012, Warfield, 24, was pursuing coursework to become an emergency medical technician and a firefighter. He had the height, size and physical strength to enter the profession, said his mom, Debbie Warfield.
But just three weeks before the exam, Oct. 14, 2012, Spencer Warfield was found dead, his life ended by a heroin overdose.
Now, nearly five years later, his mom, his father, Mike, and sister, Paige Warfield, wanted to help organize an event to commemorate the loss of their son and brother as well as all others in the county who have died from overdoses.
“A Night to Remember — A Time to Act,” a candlelight vigil in commemoration of International Overdose Awareness Day, is scheduled from 7-8:30 p.m. Thursday at Thornton A. Sullivan Park in Everett.
The vigil’s sponsors include the city of Everett and the Snohomish Health District.
Pictures of people who have died from overdoses are being posted on the event’s website.
The Warfield family will be joined by David and Cathi Lee, whose son, Corey Lee, 20, died Dec. 8, 2015. A story about Corey Lee was published in The Herald last year.
Debbie Warfield said she hopes the vigil can take away some of the stigma that often accompanies an overdose and show that such deaths can happen in any family.
The event occurs at a time of increasing deaths from heroin and other opiates, locally and nationally.
Since 2011, 669 people have died in Snohomish County from heroin or prescription opiate overdoses, according to Snohomish Health District data.
During a seven-day period in July, there were 37 overdoses, including three deaths.
Spencer Warfield’s personal battles began in middle school, when he struggled with depression and anxiety. He was prescribed Lorazepam, which isn’t a narcotic but can be addictive.
At Everett High School, Warfield played tackle on the football team, excelled at discus and could bench press 300 pounds.
There were sports injuries, including a dislocated shoulder and hyperextended elbow. He underwent surgery for sleep apnea. He was prescribed opioids for pain.
In 2007, during his first year at Washington State University in Pullman, he was admitted to a hospital after taking an excessive amount of Adderall, which he had been prescribed to treat attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder.
As a sophomore, he transferred to the University of Nevada Las Vegas. He soon began abusing opioids. He ended up requesting a medical withdrawal so he could enroll in the first of his three drug rehabilitation programs.
“He never wanted to be associated with drugs or be a drug addict,” his mom said. “He wanted to prove that the drugs weren’t part of him, that he could graduate from college.”
Each time he completed a rehabilitation program, he told his family he was thankful for the treatment and glad he was away from drugs.
He would remain off drugs for a while, but it didn’t stick. “It seems with most people, relapse is part of the disease,” his mom said.
Spencer returned home to Everett in 2009 to have surgery for a severely broken ankle. He was again prescribed opioids for pain.
At some point her son’s drug of choice switched from smoking Oxycontin to heroin. It was easier and cheaper to obtain.
Counselors advised the family to just cut off contact with him, withholding all financial and emotional support.
“He was our son, our responsibility,” his mom said. “We spent years on the phone looking for someone to help.”
His heroin use was sporadic, she said. He was not a daily heroin user.
He began classes at EvCC in 2011.
It was as if he lived a life divided — being in school, presenting what looked like a normal life without it being a normal life, she said.
The only day of classes he missed was the day before he died.
“Spencer was just a very intelligent, funny guy who loved sports,” his mom said.
Sometimes people think if they keep their kids active and involved, they won’t get involved in drugs.
“Maybe I thought that, too,” she said. “I just think there’s more to it than that.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I think something like this would be happening and I would be speaking at an overdose awareness event.”
Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Post a picture of a loved one who died of an overdose on the Facebook page “A Night to Remember – A Time to Act” by Aug. 30 at www.facebook.com/overdoseawareness everett
“A Night to Remember — A Time to Act,” a candlelight vigil in commemoration of International Overdose Awareness Day, is scheduled from 7-8:30 p.m. Thursday at Thornton A. Sullivan Park, Silver Lake, 11400 Silver Lake Road, Everett.
A website on Snohomish County’s opioid epidemic and where to get help is scheduled to go live Friday at snohomish overdoseprevention.com.