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Drugs the Human Toll:
An Interview with Ginger Katz

Ginger Katz
Ginger Katz.
On Thursday, June 8, 2006, hundreds of people will come to DEA headquarters to take part in a candlelight vigil to remember those who have died from drugs. One of the parents who will share her story will be Ginger Katz. Ginger's 20-year-old son Ian died of a heroin overdose in 1996. His story and the details of the vigil can be viewed by clicking here.

DEA spoke with Ginger about life since the loss of her son and about what she is doing to help ensure other parents do not have to go through the pain she carries with her every day.

The following are excerpts from our conversation:

On her organization, The Courage to Speak Foundation...

"Ian's doctors told us to tell people that he died of a brain aneurism, even though we knew the real cause of his death. I couldn't do that. In fact, I decided to broadcast the truth – that my son died from a drug overdose. That's what The Courage To Speak is all about – telling the truth so parents and kids can talk and save kids from the kind of death Ian suffered. Ian's doctors then, just like so many parents and children today, chose to lie. They chose silence. We chose to speak out. Thus we founded The Courage To Speak Foundation, Inc., shortly after Ian died. Our mission became to help empower youth to be drug free and encourage parents to communicate effectively with their children about the dangers of drugs."

About the role parents need to play...

"When most parents find out that their children are using drugs, they blame themselves and think that it is a reflection on their parenting. They feel so guilty that the guilt stifles them and keeps them from helping their children. Parents don't want to admit their kids are taking drugs. That's denial. And that's dangerous. Parents have to let go of the guilt and talk to their kids. They have to get help for them. Drugs are a billion-dollar business, and drug dealers are targeting our children. Parents need to be equipped. They need to find out everything their child will be exposed to, even if they think their child will never do drugs. The worst situation you can have is an unsuspecting child and a naive parent who does not believe drug addiction could happen to his or her child. Drugs need to be the conversation that follows the essential 'Don't talk to strangers' discussion."

Making good decisions is a key ingredient...

"High school kids are going to go to parties. As soon as they walk in that door and there is drinking and other drug use going on, they will have to make a decision. They need to know they can say "No." They can walk away. And even if they do not use drugs themselves, they will have to decide whether or not to be enablers for their friends. Will your child tell you what was going on at that party or will he or she enable his or her friends to continue to use drugs?"

On the current state of drug prevention in schools...

"The more I talk to principals all around the country, the more I realize how few programs the schools offer at all levels. I hear a lot of times that schools realize they need to do more because it is mandated by their state. More is great, but not enough. People just don't get it. Sure, they're mandated by state law, but there's a more fundamental mandate: to protect kids from a lifetime of misery and the possibility of a very early death. I hope we can change that."

Ian Eaccarino
Ian Eaccarino.

About working with DEA and planning the vigil...

"I've wanted to be a part of a vigil for a long while now. With the help of the DEA, we can make this a national issue. Together we can help more people speak out. We need to break the silence surrounding drugs and empower parents and kids to talk about the dangers of drugs. After Ian died I thought, 'If this could happen to me, it could happen to anyone.' I saw that we needed to do something, before another life was lost. We're still trying to do that -- to save kids' lives."

On the future...

"Parents are the biggest force for change on this issue in America today ... As one who stared into the abyss, fell into that abyss of tragic loss, and has slowly climbed back out, I can tell you that drugs present a fatal threat able to appear overnight in your life, and change it forever ... But every parent, and every responsible teacher, aunt, uncle, brother, sister, and teenager can also change the future - for the better. Today, I would appeal to parents and caring Americans from coast to coast, with this message: Stand up and be heard, but also listen. Light a candle and represent hope, but inform yourself as you do. Save a child's life, by being engaged and recognizing the threat in our midst. No cause was ever more urgent or rewarding than to keep a child off drugs. No event in life is more painful than the loss of one you dearly love, to a threat you could have defeated. Bless all those who care, and who help, of every race, gender, age and profession. We need you."


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