BRANDON — At a recent anti-drug assembly in the Burns Middle School gym, nearly every student stood up when asked if they have drunk alcohol, used illicit drugs or know someone who has.
They were shown a short video with hard-hitting messages: Don’t become a statistic, just one time can kill you, and “Be the Hero. Tell Someone,” which is the motto of the NOPE Task Force that put on the assembly.
The two featured speakers from NOPE, Denise Bossa, of Dover, and Cindy Grant, of Tampa, said the same thing about their sons who died of accidental drug overdoses:
“If someone had called 911, my son would be alive today.”
NOPE pamphlets, handed to each student entering the gym, described addiction, the dangers of combining drugs and alcohol, and the signs and symptoms of a drug overdose.
The moderator, Beth Butler, of Town ’N Country, and Deputy Roger Bradley, the Burns Middle School resource officer, cited statistics and mentioned Florida’s 911 Good Samaritan Law that saves lives by freeing individuals from legal repercussions in certain circumstances if they call for help for someone overdosing.
“Life is all about choices,” Bradley told the students as he showed them an empty body bag. “We all hope you make good choices and avoid these unnecessary tragedies.”
Most poignant were Bossa and Grant’s stories.
Bossa’s son, Michael Bossa, was a college honors student, proficient in three languages and a concert pianist, when he died at age 25, the week before his birthday.
“It was a terrible shock,” said his mother. “Life goes on — and the pain goes on. He was raised in a loving family. He wanted to be a pharmacist and thought he could control the outcome of his experiments. We all miss his smile, his laughter …” She choked up. “I miss his piano playing.”
Grant said her son, Dan Grant, was a champion tennis player, skied, played hockey, did martial arts, played saxophone, acted in plays and was active in his church youth group. He started experimenting with drugs and dropped out of high school.
One day, when Dan was 19, his mother was escorted by sheriff’s deputies to the hospital, where he lay hooked up to machines that were keeping him alive after a drug overdose.
“I knew he was gone,” she said. “It’s the worst feeling you could ever imagine. There’s no word for a parent who’s lost a child, not like a widow or orphan. It’s not supposed to happen.”
Dan and a friend had wanted to be the first to try a new drug, and it went horribly wrong. His friend tried three times to call 911, but the adults in the house wouldn’t let him, for fear they’d get in trouble. Dan lay on the floor almost two days before he went into cardiac arrest.
Grant and Bossa counseled students to be smart — using a drug one time can kill; combining drugs or mixing drugs with alcohol can be fatal; just because a doctor prescribed a medication for someone else doesn’t mean it’s safe for you; and having taken an illegal drug before, without problems, doesn’t protect you from possible deadly results the next time.
These moms stood in front of two walls of about 30 poster-sized photos of young people between the ages of 13 and 25 from Brandon, Seffner, Dover, Tampa and other cities throughout Florida and the nation who died of accidental overdoses.
“It can happen to anyone. It doesn’t matter who they are or where they’re from,” said Marina Branson, the Burns Middle School English Language Learners specialist.
Go to www.nopetask force.org or call (866) 612-NOPE (6673) for confidential information about drugs, addiction and where to get help for affected individuals and families.
Send news of community interest to Barbara Routen, freelance correspondent, at Barbara.Routen@gmail.com.