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Vigil at Pasco sheriff's office underscores drug overdose problem

NEW PORT RICHEY - Sitting on a curb just outside of the Pasco County Sheriff's Office, Debbie Dione clutched a small black teddy bear. As she held the stuffed animal close, a woman standing near her struck up a conversation. The stuffed animal still smells like him, Dione told the woman. The bear was fashioned from the shirt of her only child, Michael Villani. On the bear's feet were small shoes made of the outfit Villani wore when he came home from the hospital after his birth, Feb. 24, 1977. There also was a small circular Bart Simpson patch on the bear's chest, representing the Simpsons tattoos Villani had.
It still smells of the cologne, Fahrenheit, he always wore. Dione of Hudson joined about 65 people at the Narcotics Overdose Prevention & Education Task Force vigil Thursday night. She lost her only son to a prescription drug overdose in December 2010. "It does help me," Dione said of the vigil. "Every morning when I wake up, I think to myself, 'How do you dream up something so horrible like your son is dead.' " And then when I wake up and I see his urn, his pictures all over, … I know it's true." Michael Villani was 33. The first NOPE presentation took place in Palm Beach in 2002 in hopes of preventing drug-related deaths and abuse. There are approximately 28,000 unintentional drug poisoning deaths in the United States every year, according to a 2008 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study. In that same study, prescription drug deaths are ranked second only to car crashes when it comes to unintentional deaths. A section of the sheriff's office parking lot was transformed into an oversized kiosk of drug prevention and treatment information. Six tables were set up, mostly filled with pamphlets of groups assembled to help those with addictions. Another area featured a graphic detailing the types of prescription drugs many people abuse. The most powerful of the displays was a gray wall. On it were the pictures of people who died from overdoses. The youngest: a 13-year-old by the name of Billy Jack Beadling. A photo affixed to the display showed him on the front of an ATV as a baby, his father seated behind him. Another photo of Beadling read: "Forever 13" and "Just a memory away." "It's hard. This place needs help," Carolyn Brown, one of the event's organizers, said as she fought back tears. "We need to get it done. And the only way we can get it done is through the community. Help. Visibility, campaigns, whatever we gotta do, we need to do it. "There's too many children out there dying, and we need to help them." Brown talked about the loss of her son, Daniel, in 2010. Thursday night's vigil was one of many across the nation. "It's sad, for so long we never talked about these issues," Sheriff Chris Nocco said. "But it's a good thing that we're bringing it to light now because when you talk about issues, you can come up with solutions."

edaniels@tampatrib.com (813) 371-1860 Twitter: @EDanielsTrib
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