On Wednesday, we learned of a 17-year-old Mead High School student, Michael Garrison, passing away from an apparent drug overdose.
The Spokane County Sheriff's Office is investigating criminal charges against those with Garrison at the time of his overdose death, as well as those who supplied him drugs.
According to court documents, Garrison was found unresponsive on January 11 by two friends during a sleepover. Garrison was transported to the hospital around and pronounced dead.
The court documents said that the two friends told detectives that they witnessed Garrison snort Percocet and eat Xanax multiple times during the sleepover.
Garrison's tragic death and addiction to pills is a reminder that opioid abuse among teens in our community is happening a lot more than you might think.
"It's extremely easy. It's frightening how easy it is for youth to get access to drugs," Daybreak Youth Services Director of External Relations Sarah Spier told me on Thursday.
Sarah and Daybreak's Marketing & Development Coordinator Aislinn Lautenbach see first hand every day the grip that addiction has on teenagers in our community. Most of the patients at Daybreak aren't there for opioid abuse, but staff are seeing a scary trend in the progression that is addiction.
"Most people don't start off with a needle in their arm. They start out abusing alcohol or marijuana and then it escalates into abusing harder drugs," Spier said.
Sarah knows the cycle all too well. She is 10 years in recovery from an opioid addiction and now dedicates her life to prevention and intervention when a teen might be struggling like she was.
The most recent numbers from the Spokane County Regional Health District show that about one in twenty high school students in Spokane County used an opioid medication to get high. Daybreak's outpatient facility in Spokane Valley has seen an increase in heroin and opioid use in young men between 15 and 18-years-old in the last month. Michael Garrison was 17.
Where are youth getting the drugs?
Sarah and Aislinn said a lot of youth will actually get prescription pills from family and a lot of time the family is unaware.
Prevention of teen drug abuse can start in the home. Just like firearms, removing access to prescription pills can be the first step.
"Even if you don't have something in your home, if your child is going to a friend's house, they might have something and that's one of the easiest ways to get access to something is through parents or grandparents or friend's parents and it's not intentional," Spier said. "But that's how kids get a hold of them and then they sell them and the first place they bring them to sell is school. That's where they sell the drugs."
"It starts in the home. Be mindful of what you're doing around your children. Be mindful of the peers they're hanging out with," Lautenbach added. "If you see something say something. Lock up your meds."
We were all kids once and know first-hand how good they can be at hiding things from parents, but hiding things from friends might not be as easy, which is why Spier and Lautenbach urge friends to speak up if they see something suspicious.
"When you're young, it's so hard because you don't want to get your friend in trouble, but you literally will save their life. You need to tell a teacher, an adult, the parents if they're involved," Spier said. "If you don't you literally risk killing your friend."
Spier's experience with drug addiction led her to Daybreak to help youths in trouble, but it also afforded her the opportunity to co-found the Spokane Regional Opioid Task Force, an organization that aims to educate the public about drug addiction. On their website, you can find information about getting help or helping someone who needs it.
For more information on Daybreak Youth Services, CLICK HERE.