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A different approach to war on drugs

A different approach to war on drugs

Former JCHS coach shares story of his son's overdose

November 23rd, 2016 by Shelby Rowe in Local News

Jim Marshall holds a picture of his son, Cody Marshall, at the Capitol. Cody died of a drug overdose.

Photo by Shelby Kardell /Fulton Sun.

Cody Marshall might have survived a heroin overdose if he had received medical attention in time.

Former Jefferson City High School coach Jim Marshall and his wife, Merry, have lived without him for five years now, and Marshall has dedicated his life to preventing others from going through what they did.

This legislative session, a bill will be renamed, in part, after Cody to put a human face on overdosing individuals left by those who fear prosecution. The bill, originally called the Good Samaritan Law, has ended at the Legislature level for several years. Humanizing the issue hopefully will make the bill more impactful, Marshall said.

Bailey and Cody's Law would protect individuals who report or seek medical attention for someone who is extremely ill, has decreased consciousness, respiratory depression, coma, mania or died from drug or alcohol overdose. The person who seeks help could not be arrested or charged nor face prosecution, conviction, seizure or penalties as a result of seeking medical attention, according to last year's bill text.

Essentially, if someone has drugs or alcohol on them or is under the influence, he or she could not be criminalized for seeking help, Marshall said. Rep. Steve Lynch, of Pulaski County, is sponsoring the bill and said it is still being drafted but will be very similar to the Good Samaritan bill text proposed the last two years.

"We have decided to call the bill 'Bailey and Cody's Law' because of their personal stories," he said. "It is a way to honor both young people. We are hoping their personal stories will help shed light on the need for such a law."

Details regarding Bailey's death were not revealed, and the News Tribune was asked not to share her last name.

Marshall will testify in favor of the bill once it's filed.

"This fits the scenario my son passed away in," Marshall said. "He was left by his friends, one would speculate, because they were afraid to take him to the hospital because they were doing the same thing and were afraid of being accused or prosecuted themselves."

"It saves lives," he said. "I guess the opposing message is, 'Yes, but it allows people to escape arrest if they have drugs on them,' but my view of the war on drugs — which is what we've been using to fight drug abuse — is that we're filling up jails, but the drug problem continues to get worse. I don't know why we think we can continue to arrest the problem away."

The year before Cody's death, he had been on a downward spiral. He graduated from JCHS in May 2010 but stayed behind and tried to save money for a technical school by working a smattering of factory jobs while his best friends went to college.

He was depressed and developed an addiction to Xanax that eventually moved to heroin, Marshall said. Many talk about marijuana as the gateway drug, but Marshall said the 85 percent of people who develop a painkiller addiction start using heroin.

After Cody's death, he began speaking out at Missouri schools, educating students about Cody's story and warning against drug use.

"So many incorrect stereotypes have prevented us from getting to the root of the problem," Marshall said. "'Oh, this is a Detroit problem, or this is a kid that lives on the other side of the tracks problem, or this is the kid in the principal's office every day. This isn't the 4.0 kid or the 32-ACT kid or the kid in youth group.' There are just as many in that demographic than there are in the ones we've stereotyped incorrectly. And that's another reason I do what I do. I'm not in that demographic, but it happened to my son."

Since he started talking about drug use a few years ago, the national statistics went from one overdose every 19 minutes to one overdose every 12 minutes. By the end of this year, he said, roughly 44,000 people will have died from an overdose — about the size of Jefferson City's population.

He wants to help teach people healthy ways to cope instead of turning to drugs. He hopes students have dialogues with their families, stop using drugs themselves or at least have knowledge about drugs when the situation arises.

Marshall is part of a grassroots movement encouraging Missouri counties to institute a prescription drug monitoring program, making it more difficult for people to get prescription drugs from multiple doctors in a short period of time. Doctors and pharmacists could look up people's history to see if they had recently been prescribed drugs from another doctor.

Missouri is the only state without a prescription drug monitoring program, so people from bordering states cross into Missouri to get their fix.

"The Drug Enforcement Agency has called us the pill mill of the United States," he said. "A lot of people don't know that."

Some legislators kept blocking the measure at the state level, so he's been part of the effort to spread it throughout Missouri's counties. St. Louis is the only county so far to implement the program, but it'll be on the ballot for voters in St. Charles and Boone counties soon, he said. Jackson County recently approved its own program and is in the process of setting it up.

Marshall said these efforts are his way of coping with his son's death.

"Obviously there's a hole in your heart, and there's a missing part of you," he said. "It's a different type of normal — a new normal. Not the best normal, but a different type of normal. But I found strength in dealing with it by sharing his message and name and promoting legislation that will help this problem. As a longtime educator, I wanted to take a negative and make it into a positive."