By CRAIG MURPHY

As we enter into the holiday season, we have been running a Chasing Dark series of stories here in the Keizertimes about drugs.

Pretty crappy timing, no?

Actually, no.

Brandon Crist was just 22 years old when he overdosed on heroin in late September. His death was a key factor in doing this series. We had been discussing doing some story about drugs, using an excellent piece from August in Seattle Weekly by Casey Jaywork titled “The Spike: What Lies Behind the New Heroin Epidemic?” as a starting point. That story can be found here: http://www.seattleweekly.com/home/960150-129/the-spike-what-lies-behind-the

We were told there might be someone locally willing to talk about what it’s like to be a heroin addict. But that didn’t go anywhere until Brandon’s tragic death. We were told people in the heroin community were shaken up by Brandon’s death and would now be willing to talk. That led to the first story in the series, about heroin addict Spencer and how his family is dealing with his addiction.

Counting this week’s story about resources and suggestions, the series has now spanned 10 stories. More could be on the horizon. A new tab will be added to our website with full versions of all the stories, plus any additional stories in the series will be added there in the future.

I want to extend a huge thank you to those willing to share their stories, insights and suggestions. I can’t even begin to imagine how tough it must have been for parents to talk about losing their children to drug addictions, both because of the pain involved and because of the stigma that goes with drugs, which I’ll address in a moment.

So what was the intent of the series? Simple: to shed light on the growing problem – yes, it is fair to call this an epidemic – of heroin addiction. Put simply, this crap is killing our youth at an alarming rate. We need to have open, frank discussions about what the drugs does, signs to look for that your child may be addicted and to let families know they are not alone.

Jeff and Hollie Crist never imagined their son would die of a heroin overdose. Even after Brandon became addicted, it seemed like his life was back on track. He was going to be a drug counselor, using his story to share with teens and to warn them what not to do. But then he slipped off track.

Elizabeth Smith didn’t even recognize her daughter along River Road after a near-fatal heroin overdose. She never imagined having to find where to send Samantha to get clean. But she fought like hell, learning some awful, dark truths along the way. Now Sam is helping others and Elizabeth was adamant their story be shared.

Sue was frustrated about what happened with Peggy and saw her daughter never hitting rock bottom.

Going back to the stigma: the stereotype out there is drug addicts are from questionable families, often low income. Sometimes that is the case. But in the three examples mentioned above, it’s just the opposite.

That’s the scary thing – or one of the scariest things – about heroin: it’s an addiction that can latch onto anyone, regardless of factors like family life and economic status.

Let me be blunt for a moment: If you think your child couldn’t possibly become an addict because such behavior is somehow beneath you or your family, your head is buried in the sand.

And if you think it’s only an isolated problem with some people in town, you’re sadly mistaken. This is a problem that extends well beyond the seven square miles of Keizer. It’s everywhere.

Elizabeth and Sam would love to have a community meeting to talk about heroin. I would love to see that happen and I hope the meeting draws a standing room-only crowd.

But that should only be one step along the way. We need the topic to stay in the light. We need the story to be shared with friends and family outside of Keizer. We need media organizations in other areas to help by doing stories.

Why? So that other parents don’t have to answer that knock on the door, which only confirms the sickening feeling deep in the pit of the mom’s stomach.

Why? So that youth like Brandon and Peggy didn’t die in vain, and so families that have gone through this hell didn’t do it in vain.

Why? So that this growing epidemic can be stopped.

To say this isn’t the “right” time to talk about this issue because of the holidays is to say there never is a right time. We can’t just push it off and say let’s talk about it tomorrow, because there will always be an excuse to push if off. This is a topic that needs to be addressed.

Right now.

After all, for people like Brandon Crist, there are no more tomorrows.

(Craig Murphy is news editor of the Keizertimes).