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Friday, Mar 24, 2017
Education

Families urge students to speak up about substance abuse

LUTZ - Michele Phillips stared at her son in the body bag, waiting for those large brown puppy eyes to pop open one more time, for that dimpled face to smile again. She wanted 14-year-old Spencer to sit up, to laugh, to tell her it was all just a joke. "He didn't move," the Valrico woman said quietly. Phillips stroked his face, feeling his skin one last time before his body would be hauled away from his father's Westchase home to the Hillsborough County Medical Examiner's Office.
"I kissed him on the forehead and said, 'Why, Spencer, how did Mommy fail you?' '' she told a hushed crowd of Steinbrenner High School seniors Monday. Spencer Foster, who grew up playing soccer, baseball and football and loved art and the violin, died of an accidental overdose. Investigators found Soma, OxyContin and alcohol in his body. "We still don't know why he is dead. We don't know who was with him when he died," Phillips said. "I hate to think that he died alone. "Spencer's death means something and it has to," she added. "That's why we're here." Phillips and others were at Steinbrenner as part of a presentation from a group called NOPE – Narcotics Overdose Prevention & Education Task Force. In front of more than two dozen large color photographs of young lives cut short by drug overdoses, they told their stories. They remember the last time they saw their kids. The final occasion they heard their voices. The last time they exchanged text messages. Mothers whose lives were shattered urged the students – who are just a couple of months away from graduating – to tell someone if they know about a friend taking drugs. "Be the hero and tell someone," said Karen Perry, who lost a son to an accidental drug overdose and founded the group in Palm Beach County. "Just one time can kill." Students listened to a 911 call from a mother who had found her son's lifeless body after an overdose. They saw a deputy display a body bag like those used when youngsters overdose on pills found in medicine cabinets. Most sat silently. Some wiped away tears. For a student body where many know someone who is doing illegal drugs or drinking alcohol, or both, it was a sobering message. "It's very sad," senior Kara Saunders said after the hour-long presentation in the auditorium. "That could happen to any one of us." Saunders has heard of students who drink or those who pop Xanax or Oxy. "I hope the message gets to some of them," she said. Jamie Phillips stood at his mother's right side during her speech. He knows the pain of losing an older brother. He was 10 at the time. Now 15, he wears his brother's number in football, with Spencer's name stitched inside the back of his jersey. That way, his brother is always with him on the field. Jamie Phillips tries to visit his brother's grave as often as he can. There, he sits on a bench and talks to his brother. And, he says, it's like his brother is talking to him. "I feel like I'm communicating with him," Jamie said. He urges teenagers to talk to their friends if they see them doing something that could endanger their lives and crush their families. "I don't want this to happen to anyone else," he said. "It's been tough. It's a lot of pain and struggling to go through."

rshaw@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7999

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