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Kenneth Lucas will say the cost of teenage drug abuse is incalculable.

He would know.

On Oct. 28, Noon had come and gone, and Lucas’ son, Allec O’Brien, hadn’t woken up. He was a straight-A student at Valleydale Christian Academy and maintained a part-time job. He was an all-star lacrosse player, an Eagle Scout and a black belt. He was also, Kenneth said, a frequent user of illegal drugs.

The prior morning, Allec was scheduled to take the ACT. He had already scored a 26 and was aiming for a 28. He told Lucas that after the test he was going camping for the night and wouldn’t be back by their house in the Oak Mountain area.

Instead, he began the day by taking a stimulant, Adderall, and followed it with a depressant, Xanax. He then went to Southside, where he allegedly drank alcohol and smoked marijuana. It was early the next morning, Lucas said, when Allec was offered heroine.

When they woke around 2 p.m., Lucas said Allec’s friends tried and failed to get a response from him before deciding to move his body. Allegedly, he was put in a car and taken to the hospital, where doctors attempted to revive him for 45 minutes.

They couldn’t.

Kenneth said doctors told him that Allec, at 17 years old, likely died in his sleep around 6 a.m.

The State Department of Forensic Sciences has yet to confirm it with a toxicology report, but Lucas said he believes Allec died of a drug overdose and he wants people to know.

“What I want to do with this experience is help bring attention to the drug problem, not just heroin abuse,” Lucas said. “I want to save somebody from the pain I’ve been through.”

On the rise

“In our teenage and early 20s age brackets, we’re seeing significant marijuana use, and underage alcohol is also a considerable problem,” Shelby County Sheriff Chris Curry said. “We also see prescription and pain medication abuse, and in the last several years, heroine abuse has become more prevalent.”

Statistics from the Shelby County Board of Education’s 2009-2010 Pride Survey, an annual, anonymous questionnaire used by school districts to inquire about teen drug and alcohol use, report 36 percent of high school seniors in the district

confirmed monthly alcohol use, and 22 percent reported monthly use of illicit drugs. In 2008, 7 percent of seniors reported monthly use of heroin – a four percent jump from the year before.

Shelby County Sheriff Chris Curry said heroin roared back on the scene in 2010 because it was a less expensive option for those addicted to opiate-based pain medications, namely Oxycontin and Lortab. In 2008, 10 percent of seniors reported monthly use of those drugs according to the Pride Survey.

Heroin poses a significant and specific threat to users, Curry said. Where prescription pill users know precisely the strength of the dose they are taking, there is no way to measure the purity of heroin sold on the street.

According to data from 2012 collected by the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office Drug Enforcement Task Force, heroin cases in Shelby County were up 150 percent over previous year – from 18 to 45 percent. Curry said the amount of heroin seized in 2012 jumped by 10 times.

Data from Shelby County Coroner Diana New reports that midway through 2012, the county had suffered nine deaths confirmed as the result of heroin use, and seven more were believed to be forthcoming. Twenty five more cases were awaiting the return of toxicology reports.

Allec is one of those cases.

Staying out in front

Lucas’ ex-wife, Allec’s mother, died from cancer in 2010, leaving Lucas as a single parent responsible for raising both Allec and his sister. To pay the bills, he works long hours as a school bus mechanic in Bessemer. He was often gone before sunrise and home well after dark.

But Lucas said almost all of his spare time was spent with his children, and it wasn’t difficult to notice the signs of Allec’s drug abuse.

“Everybody loved him,” Lucas said. “He was so outgoing and caring. But when he was on drugs, he was ugly, mean, self-centered and greedy. It was like daylight and dark.”

He confronted and drug tested Allec, then a student at Oak Mountain High School, on multiple occasions, but Allec passed them all. So, through his church, Lucas booked the two of them on a mission trip to Honduras. Lucas said he hoped the experience would “open Allec’s eyes.”

Before they left though, Lucas found evidence Allec was not only abusing drugs,

but also selling them – specifically marijuana and hallucinogenic mushrooms, he said. While on the trip, Lucas gave the Sheriff’s Office permission to search his house, and on their return, Allec was taken into custody.

But neither that experience nor the trip changed anything.

“It sticks out in my mind that people judge me because my son died of a drug overdose,” Lucas said. “I reached out every way I could to get him on the right path. I felt helpless.”

A good steward

Lucas said his mission now is to bring attention to teen drug use and help other parents of at-risk children. Lucas said teens turn to drugs for thousands of reasons, including pain, anger, sadness, loneliness, and peer and parental pressure. He advocates spending more time talking with children, learning their worries and finding ways to solve their problems together.

“Tell your kids what a huge hole they would leave in everyone’s lives if they were gone, and realize how big a hole you leave in your kid’s life when you are absent or too busy. Spend more time with your kids.”

Lucas also encouraged parents to get to know and interact with their children’s core groups of friends, offering to help whenever necessary. And, above all, pray.

“I reached out to him and it didn’t help, but I can’t say that won’t work with every kid,” he said.

Allec’s toxicology report is slated be returned to the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office before April. Allec’s ACT score should be in by the time this story prints.

For resources on drug prevention programs, visit shelbyed.k12.al.http://shelbyed.k12.al.us/student_serv/drugprevention.htmus/student_serv/drugprevention.htm

To read the most recent Pride Survey for Shelby County Schools, visit shelbyed.k12.al.us/student_serv/pridesurvey.htm

Published: January 30, 2013

By Jeff Thompson (280 Living)

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