Pubdate: Tue, 05 Aug 2014
Source: Over the Mountain Journal, The (AL)
Copyright: 2014 Over the Mountain Journal
Author: Keysha Drexel


When friends from her Sunday School class knocked on the door of her 
Vestavia Hills home in the middle of the day last spring, Beverly 
Mims said she knew something was wrong.

"I had felt uneasy that morning, like something was off. My heart 
skipped a beat when I heard them at the door," Mims said. "They had 
my husband, Ronnie on the phone and told me he needed to talk to me. 
But I never dreamed that what he would say was that our son was dead."

In the year and a half since her 20-year-old son, Baker, died of a 
heroin overdose, Mims said she's come to view that knock on the door 
in March 2013 as the moment that her life changed forever-and a 
wake-up call to the Over the Mountain community.

"Baker was a good kid from a good family in a good neighborhood, but 
he made a bad choice and he paid for it with his life," she said. "If 
it can happen to my son, it can happen to anyone's child."

In an effort to spread the message that good kids like Baker Mims can 
make fatally bad choices when it comes to drugs and alcohol, 
Leadership Vestavia Hills is partnering with the city and the 
Vestavia Hills Board of Education for Help the Hills, a series of 
meetings aimed at fostering an open dialogue about drug and alcohol 
abuse with parents, educators and community leaders. The first 
meeting in the Help the Hills series will be a Town Hall meeting at 6 
p.m. Aug. 16 at Vestavia Hills United Methodist Church.

"Educating the whole child goes beyond the classroom. We all play a 
part in the health and well-being of our youth," Vestavia Hills City 
Schools Superintendent Sheila Phillips said. "Our children need to 
know that we're in this together-for their protection." Sgt. Joel 
Gaston with the Vestavia Hills Police Department said the city has 
had four drug-related deaths in 2014.

"We've got a problem and we know it," Mayor Alberto "Butch" Zaragoza 
said earlier this year.

Vestavia Hills is not the only Over the Mountain city adopting 
community-wide initiatives to cope with the increase in drug and 
alcohol abuse in teens and young adults. And it is not the only city 
to lose young people to overdoses.

Capt. Gregg Rector of the Hoover Police Department said there have 
been six drug-related deaths in Hoover so far this year.

"That's six too many," he said. "If we keep up at this pace, we'll 
have even more drug deaths this year than we did last year."

Rector said there were four drug-related deaths in Hoover in 2013, 
five in 2012 and five in 2011.

In the past, the Hoover Coalition Promoting a Safe and Healthy 
Community also worked with city and school officials to offer forums 
on drugs and alcohol.

The Hoover City Schools Student Services division hosts panel 
discussions and presentations on synthetic marijuana, underage 
drinking, bullying, social media safety and other topics.

The school system will hold a panel discussions and presentations on 
social media by police officers for parents of middle and high school 
students on Aug. 17 and Aug. 19 at Spain Park High School and Aug. 24 
and Aug. 26 at Hoover High School.

The Hoover school system, like other Over the Mountain school 
systems, also conducts drug and alcohol use surveys with students each year.

The Homewood community started a youth drug prevention coalition a 
little over 18 months ago, said Carissa Anthony, prevention and 
development coordinator for Homewood City Schools.

"The school district had been doing drug and alcohol awareness 
initiatives before, but we wanted to take that a step further and 
embrace the whole community," Anthony said. "I think in order to 
effectively change perceptions and behaviors so that our kids are 
making healthy choices, we need to make sure they hear consistent 
messages from every direction-from home, at school, from their 
friends, from their faith communities, from their athletic leagues. 
That message to our kids is this: We love you, we care about you and 
we have high expectations of you, and here's how we want to help you 
make healthy choices."

That community-wide approach is also at work in the Mountain Brook 
Anti-Drug Coalition, said Dale Wisely, director of student services 
at Mountain Brook City Schools.

"We actually have plans to broaden the mission of that organization, 
to make it even more broadly community-based, and we will rename it 
All In Mountain Brook," said Wisely, who will speak at the Vestavia 
Hills Town Hall Meeting Aug. 16. "This is a partnership between the 
school system, city government, the Mountain Brook business community 
and worship communities."

Lt. Jay Williams with the Mountain Brook Police Department said there 
has been one drug-related death in Mountain Brook since July 1, 2013.

In Shelby County, the department of student services at Shelby County 
Schools offers drug abuse prevention programs, conducts drug and 
alcohol use surveys with students and offers peer helper and family 
intervention programs.

As of June 30, Shelby County had 16 drug-related deaths, said Lt. 
Kevin Turner with the Shelby County Drug Task Force. Shelby County 
had 52 drug-related deaths in 2013.

In addition to investigating complaints of illegal narcotics activity 
and arresting offenders and aiding in their prosecution, the Shelby 
County Drug Task Force also presents educational programs to civic 
organizations and schools.

"Drug abuse has no boundaries. It affects all economic levels and 
social groups," Turner said.

That's something Susan Thomas of Vestavia Hills said she had to learn 
the hard way.

Thomas, her husband and her three sons-now 22, 19 and 17-have lived 
just doors down from the Mims family for 18 years.

"Our families have always had so much in common, but I never imagined 
that drug addiction would affect either family," Thomas said.

Thomas' oldest son and Baker Mims were childhood friends and later 
attended Vestavia Hills High School together.

"My oldest son and Baker were one month and two days apart in age. 
Beverly and I were both stay-at-home moms. Our husbands were both 
involved in coaching the sports teams and in Boy Scouts, and we're 
all active in church," Thomas said. "We thought we were doing all we 
could to make sure our children knew to stay away from drugs."

But in January 2010, a friend of her son's dropped a bombshell on 
Thomas when she asked him if he knew why her son had been moody.

"I thought my son was just a little down, maybe a little depressed, 
and so his best friend was over at the house and I asked him if he 
knew what was going on," Thomas said. "His friend just looked at me 
and said, 'I think he needs to go to rehab,' and I was just in shock, 
just stunned."

That night, Thomas learned that her son had started taking 
prescription pain pills and smoking marijuana the summer before and 
that he'd been trying to wean himself off the painkillers. Months 
later, she learned heroin was among the many drugs her son had tried 
while he was in high school.

"This was a sweet, respectful child who had never been in trouble, 
who never had bad grades. This is a child who came home at curfew 
every night and who, when he came in to tell me goodnight, I would 
smell his hair and his breath and look at his eyes, not because I had 
any idea he was on drugs but because I thought that's what parents 
were supposed to do," she said. "I did all the things I thought I was 
supposed to do, but I still missed it."

Thomas said while she had talked to her children about the dangers of 
cigarettes, alcohol and marijuana, she said she doesn't remember 
prescription pills or heroin being on her radar.

"I remember seeing something on the news before I knew that my son 
had tried heroin about how it was making a comeback and that more 
kids were using heroin, and I remember thinking, 'Thank heavens we 
don't have that problem here in Vestavia.' I think a lot parents think that."

That's what Mims said she thought.

"After he (Baker) graduated from high school (in 2011), we found out 
that he had tried pot, so we cut off his access to money, took his 
car away from him and gave him drug tests, but I had no idea he had 
even tried heroin until after he died," she said.

In the weeks before his death, Mims said Baker, who was attending UA 
on a full academic scholarship, seemed excited about his classes and 
the future.

"He had plans, and I thought we were over the hump with the 
marijuana. A few days before he passed, he called me and told me that 
he had gotten his hair cut short again," she said. "I never got to 
see his new haircut until his funeral."

Mims said she plans to attend the Help the Hills Town Hall meeting 
Aug. 18, and even though it's difficult to talk about, she wants to 
share her story with other parents.

"During his life, Baker touched so many people. He was a volunteer 
with the special needs kids at school, and they just loved him. He 
really enjoyed giving back in any way he could," she said. "And I 
feel like he's still doing that and that God is still using Baker to 
make an impact on people and to show the dangers of even 
experimenting with drugs. My son never got the chance to learn from 
his mistakes."

Thomas said she also plans to attend the meeting but that her son is 
not ready to talk about his addiction struggles, even though he has 
been clean for more than four and half years now.

"He has a lot of shame, and it's a daily struggle," she said.

"That's what our kids have to realize, what our parents have to 
really think about, too-even if you don't die from a drug overdose 
and you're lucky enough to get help in time, drug addiction is 
something you will deal with for the rest of your life, one way or another."

Information on drug-related deaths this year in Homewood was not 
available at press time.
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