Mich. students hear reality messages about opioid abuse

A panel of speakers shared their stories with middle and high school students about life-and-death reality of opioid addiction


By Dan Cherry
The Daily Telegram

MORENCI, Mich. — A panel of guest speakers on Tuesday told their stories to Morenci middle and high school students about the life-and-death reality of opioid and other drug addictions, hoping no one in the audience will never experience their stories.

The morning's panel of speakers included Anna Boger, whose daughter, Ann Marie Bender, died in 2014 at age 28 of an overdose as Boger called 911 for help; former center for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers NFL football team Randy Grimes; motivational speaker Tim Ryan; and comedian Mark Lundholm. Grimes, Ryan and Lundholm all spoke about their own life stories of addiction and recovery.

The seminar also was attended by Lenawee County Prosecutor Burke Castleberry, Undersheriff Troy Bevier, Morenci Police Chief Mike Creswell, Dustin Krasny from U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg's office and staff from Parkside Family Counseling in Adrian.

Grimes played center for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 1983 to 1992. He spoke to the students about how injuries and the desire to remain on the playing field led to a longtime struggle with prescription pain pill addiction.

Grimes told his story, of his rise to fame and his eventual fall, recovery and about the path he walks today. His addiction started after facing football injuries and wanting to keep playing.

"The one thing I learned ... was to do whatever it takes to stay out on the field and that meant taking handfuls of painkillers," Grimes said. "I knew if I wasn't in my (playing) position, somebody else was."

Grimes said he thought that because the painkillers were coming from team doctors, "it was OK."

For the next 20 years, Grimes said, "I put my family through hell. I couldn't stop. This thing got a hold of me. I consider myself a pretty tough guy, but this was way bigger than me."

Eventually, Grimes sought treatment at Behavioral Health of the Palm Beaches in North Palm Beach, Florida. Wracked with pain and withdrawal, Grimes said he was reduced to physically crawling to the entrance to get help, but a journey he spoke about with resolve.

"That night I fell out of that car and crawled through that door was the hardest thing that I ever did," he said on the first step to recovery.

Today, Grimes said he works for a treatment center that helps sports athletes in their own struggles.

"I'm so grateful to give back to the guys I played with," Grimes said.

The retired football player told the Morenci students to be part of the solution of ridding society of addiction.

"Don't sit there and say this will never happen to you," he said. "Addiction can happen to anyone. We can't arrest our way out of this epidemic. We can educate our way out."

Tim Ryan, from Transformations Treatment Center, spoke about his early years of using humor at others' expense to "fit in," bullying, becoming a successful businessman and then descent into the thralls of addiction to opioids and destructive behavior.

"I thought I could get sober by osmosis — if I hung out with sober people, I could do it," he said.

But, Ryan said, "95 percent of those people who get on opiates will never get sober." Most will either end up in jail or dead, he said.

Ryan said a bag of heroin started his downward spiral that included a year in prison, the eventual road to sobriety, and the loss of his 20-year-old son, Nick, to drug overdose.

Ryan used his time before the students to warn them what drugs can do and the impact it has on those around them.

"If you want to find out who your friends are, go to drug treatment, the ICU (intensive care unit) or jail," Ryan said. "You will find out who your real friends are. You are a product of the five people you associate with the most. Choose your friends wisely. Be careful who you extend that olive branch to."

Ryan told the students to not be afraid to ask for help for themselves or for others they may see struggling with drugs, or who overdose.

"The hardest thing to do is to put your hand up and say, 'I need help,'" Ryan said. "You might be the person to save someone's life so another mother doesn't have to make a 911 call like Anna did," Ryan said of Boger.

Lundholm used a blend of comedy and poignant points to reach the students Tuesday and speak about his nearly 30 years of sobriety. He told the students to not be afraid to ask for help and to be honest in their own situations.

"For 100 percent help, 100 percent hope, tell 100 percent truth," he said. "The truth you tell is the help you get."

Lundholm challenged the students in their "first thought wrong" regarding choices and decisions, a phrase Lundholm uses on his tour that he said puts him on the road more than 250 days a year.

"Tomorrow, I want to applaud your teacher when he or she walks into the room," he said. "The staff care enough about you to bring us here. This school cares about you. There's hope after dope. Raise your hand; ask for help.

"It works. I promise."

Communities In Schools partnered with local organizations to bring the anti-opioid presentation to Morenci Area Schools. Krasny delivered brief remarks on Walberg's legislative efforts to combat the opioid epidemic, including the removal of prescription medication from recently deceased peoples' homes so the medications do not go back to the family and potentially into the hands of abusers.

Copyright 2018 The Daily Telegram

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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