It all began with a prescription. Lortab: doctor's orders.
It was 2008, senior year. It would have been the last season Brad Blount dressed out in Vestavia Hills' red and blue and rushed onto the field under the Friday night lights.
Instead, a football injury sent Blount spiraling out of control.
When the diagnosis came in, it didn't look good. A torn rotator cuff and other complications meant Blount would have to sit out during every sport for the entirety of his senior year. No wrestling or football; definitely not baseball.
"I went through an identity crisis," Blount told a packed room at the Vestavia Country Club Thursday morning.
Without sports in his life, Blount said he didn't know what to do or where to turn. He'd dreamed of pitching in college, toeing a clean rubber on perfectly kept mounds, but even before the season began, all of that was cut short. He thought the void left by the lack of sports was the lowest he could feel--until the prescriptions, both the Lortab and then Oxycodone, ran dry.
"I felt low," he explained to the gathered audience at the Addiction Prevention Coalition's "Wake Up!" breakfast. "I became depressed when I was taken off of the medication. I didn't understand what I was feeling."
Other current and former over-the-mountain high school students joined Blount Thursday in sharing their own experiences with drugs and alcohol, including how they became addicted, what helped them to recover, and how and why every parent should talk openly to their kids to avoid the pitfalls of addiction.
In Blount's case, the dominos began to fall in his attempt to level out.
Driven by a desire to feel "normal" again, Blount began seeking out--no matter the price--the effects the prescription opiates had once given him. When it became too difficult to find another pill to pop, Blount turned down an even darker path.
"I ended up becoming a heroin addict," said Blount.
Blount said he lied to his parents, to anyone who ever came between him and his next high, and stole whenever he had a chance. At his lowest, Blount said he could not live through a solid four hours without taking another hit of heroin. It was a constant, everyday nagging, he said.
"There was a time when I believed I would never draw a sober breath again," he said.
And he isn't alone.
Authorities say more people are experimenting with heroin, more than ever with deadly consequences.
A sharp rise in heroin-related deaths across Jefferson County in 2014 left no one immune, according to the Jefferson County Coroner's Office, including Over the Mountain cities like Vestavia Hill.
Heroin deaths in Jefferson County jumped about 140 percent in 2014, AL.com's Carol Robinson reported earlier this month. Homewood, Hoover and Vestavia Hills each reported seven confirmed heroin-related deaths in 2014.
In May 2012, AL.com and The Birmingham News first highlighted the growing problem in Jefferson County. In August, "Help the Hills" hosted its first meeting and featured speakers Dale Wisely, Ph.D., David Howard, and Rick Norris, a Vestavia parent whose son, Tripp, was a Vestavia Hills High School grad, a senior at The University of Alabama and an aspiring and talented musician. Tripp died in 2011as a result of a lethal mix of alcohol and street heroin.
On Jan. 5, the Vestavia Hills community once again did its part to ensure its children aren't part of another statistic.
The Vestavia Hills School Board, the Vestavia Hills Police Department, and the Jefferson County Drug Court host a second town hall, "Help the Hills" meeting focused on the "Truth and Consequences of Drug and Alcohol Use"
Availability, purity and the pursuit of a higher high are all to blame for the increase in deaths, experts have said.
Despite the staggering statistics against him, Blount survived.
Deep down, Blount said he knew he had everything a young man needed to become a successful adult: supportive parents, the luxuries of a good school and athletic talent.
"I couldn't ask for any better parents than what God gave me," said the fresh-faced Blount. "God put me in a place with a good family that gave me everything I ever could have wanted, all the support I could have ever needed."
It was that relentless support and love, he said, that helped him sober up.
Today, one-and-a-half years sober, Blount said he believes he must do what is needed in his community: to share his experiences and his long, continuing road to recovery so that other young men and young women might learn from his journey.
"If my story can save one kid's life," he said, "it's absolutely worth me sharing it."
He hopes his message might help others struggling gather some insight such that they and their parents can learn to spot the warning signs and seek help when it is needed.
He warns parents of becoming too comfortable with the thought that drugs could never affect their child.
"Many parents can fall into this mindset of believing what they want to believe," he said. "Don't risk the life of your child by letting things slide."
Open communication is key, said Blount, but it must remain level-headed and come from a place of love.
"Stay away from extreme dramatic statements," he said. Children can eventually figure it out that "pot won't make you immediately stupid."
Shaming, he said, is another no-no.
"Don't need to say things like 'I didn't raise you this way,'" he said. "They already know that you didn't raise them that way."
Instead, he suggests, parents should watch for the signs: frequent, unexplained disappearances, a drop in grades and loss of interest in activities and sports.
"You can't alter a choice a child is going to make," said Blount, "but you can give them every opportunity to succeed."
According to its Mission Statement, the Addiction Prevention Coalition aims to "help prevent substance abuse by fostering community collaborations, facilitating student led drug prevention programs and expanding access to services."
Thursday, the Coalition presented its first "Community Impact Award" to the City of Vestavia Hills, in recognition of "their outstanding collaborative efforts to fight substance abuse within their area."
For more about the APC, and for information about how to get involved, click here.
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