'Miracle' spurs parents to help others fight drug abuse in Westmoreland County

| Saturday, March 16, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

When Chris Maxim's 16-year-old son Joey got into a car driven by an intoxicated friend who had been arrested for drunken driving four days earlier, his life changed forever.

After they left a party, the car was involved in a crash.

“I got the call my son was nonresponsive and was being flown to Allegheny General Hospital,” Maxim said.

Doctors said Joey had little chance of survival. He was taken off life support, yet he lived.

“He was a miracle,” Maxim said. “I believe God has a plan for him.”

Maxim and her husband, Joseph, of Murrysville founded Young Overcomers United to educate teens and parents about the dangers of drugs and alcohol.

In response to the surge in drug overdose deaths caused by prescription drugs and heroin in Westmoreland County, the Maxims are sponsoring a drug forum at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Cornerstone Ministries on Route 22 in Murrysville.

The forum is aimed at parents and teenagers who attend Franklin Regional, Penn-Trafford and Kiski Area schools.

More than 1,200 people attended a drug summit Thursday at Hempfield Area High School with David Mineta, deputy secretary of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. The summit was sponsored by the Hempfield Area school board, which has been wrestling with drug problems.

The Maxims created Young Overcomers United and began working with young addicts in their home.

The program has evolved into a 10-step recovery program.

Although the forum coincides with the release of a coroner's office report this month that shows drug overdose deaths are on pace to set a new record in the county, Maxim said the timing is coincidental.

“I even had rose-colored glasses on,” she said. “As a parent, you want to think the best of your kids. We want parents to take the blinders off and let them know if your child is using drugs. Even though there is trouble, there is hope.”

The White House drug office reports that a major cause of addiction and drug overdoses is prescription drugs.

Some teens raid their parents' medicine cabinets, gathering drugs such as Ritalin, Tylenol with codeine, Xanax, Vicodin, Adderall and Valium and holding a “Skittles Party.”

The multicolored pills are placed in a bag, and party-goers take turns reaching into the bag and swallowing whatever pill they select without considering the ramifications.

The path to heroin starts with prescription drugs, Mineta said.

The National Survey on Drug Use & Abuse found that one-third of all 12-year-olds who used drugs for the first time used prescription medications.

“It's been a problem for years,” Mineta said. “People are not realizing how bad it is.”

Many parents refuse to believe there is serious drug abuse in their children's schools, Maxim said.

Coroner Ken Bacha said last week his office investigated 78 drug overdose deaths in 2012. Twenty were linked to prescription pain medications, he said. The office has investigated 17 overdose deaths so far this year.

Greensburg-based Excela Health reported treating another 400 drug overdose cases in its emergency rooms last year.

The Cornerstone forum will feature teenage addicts in recovery speaking to their peers rather than government or elected officials, she said.

“We wanted to bring real-life stories,” Maxim added. “People see addiction as shameful. In every family, someone is either a drug addict or an alcoholic.”

Richard Gazarik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6292 or at rgazarik@tribweb.com.

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