Forum spotlights epidemic

Faces of Heroin promotes awareness

HOWLAND — With a tattoo on her forearm of the last few beats of her brother’s heart, Brianne Cavender won’t forget his life and struggles, and by promoting awareness about addiction, she said she hopes to help other families avoid the pain of loss to the disease.

Cavender’s brother, Craig Sallaz, a 2001 Howland High School graduate, died in 2015 from an accidental drug overdose.

A special seat in the school gymnasium was reserved Jan. 15 for Sallaz and several other former students who died from overdoses. The occasion was a community presentation of “Faces of Heroin.”

Cavender said events like that are one of the ideal ways to get the message out about the way drug addiction can take over a person’s life, lead to death and the devastation of families.

Five years sober herself at the time of Sallaz’s death, Cavender said she understands first hand two sides of the addiction issue.

“In a way, it is almost worse to be a surviving family member. Don’t get me wrong, what an addict is going through is hard, but when they die the pain ends. It is the family who is left to deal with the unending pain,” Cavender said.

Cavender said Sallaz started on prescription pain medications.

“He lost himself; he wasn’t strong enough, and he lost himself,” Cavender said.

But, Cavender said she has hope that events like the recent community forum will wake people up to the realities of the heroin epidemic and stop being quiet about it.

Going to meetings and being there for other people in the struggle is one of the ways Cavender said she tries to heal herself.

“Take a chance and believe in someone. There is a life you have to save, and you can only do that when you put yourself out there,” Cavender said.

Families who don’t want to think the worse will happen to them could be blindsided when a child struggling with addiction succumbs to it.

“They don’t think it could really happen to them, so they don’t seek help,” Cavender said.

And there is help out there, said Howland Fire Department paramedic Nate Durig. Several addiction outreach groups and recovery clinics set up shop at the school Sunday, to help people connect to services.

Durig said people struggling with an opioid addiction — drugs like heroin and some pain medications like oxycodone — end up being revived with naloxone, an overdose reversal drug.

Some times naloxone works like a miracle, and the person’s respiratory system starts up again. But sometimes it is too late, Durig said. And then a family is left with the grief of loss, Durig said.

Chelsea Sprankle, a senior at Howland, said the presentation carried a lot of impact.

“It personalized the issue for us. We know, or know of, these people. These are kids we know. It makes it more real,” Sprankle said.