Jim Marshall, Westminster College's track and field coach and founder of the drug abuse awareness organization Cody's Gift, called heroin addiction an "invisible epidemic" Wednesday as he spoke to William Woods University students.
By speaking to middle school, high school and college students, Marshall - a former North Callaway R-I School District teacher - gives an awareness about the dangers of drug abuse, which is a subject close to his heart.
In 2011, his son, Cody, died from a heroin and Xanax overdose. Cody was 20.
Jennifer Burton - William Woods' Counseling, Faith and Health Services coordinator - welcomed Marshall to William Woods for the second time to share his insights on drug abuse. Burton was a history student of Marshall's when she attended North Callaway High School.
"When his son died, he really came out and started doing this programming, which was pretty amazing to me, that he's strong enough to get out and be proactive about a tragedy that he's been through," Burton said.
Marshall presented some startling statistics to the crowd, which filled William Woods' library auditorium. Every two minutes, Marshall said, an emergency room receives a new patient who overdosed on heroin. A teenager dies every 16 minutes from a drug overdose, he added.
"If we don't start educating kids, we're going to start burying kids every four or five minutes," he said.
In 2013, Marshall said there were 123 ambulance runs in Cole County for overdose calls. The statistics in Callaway and Boone counties, he said, weren't much different.
Marshall also spoke about two correlated stigmas - mental health and drug addiction. He said people who don't know how to handle mental health issues, like anxiety and depression, turn to drugs as a "coping mechanism" to self medicate.
Because of the stigma surrounding mental health, Marshall said, people often fear being judged for seeking help and take treatment into their own hands with drugs. Once people are addicted to drugs, Marshall said society tends to look at them as "bottom feeders" and "losers."
Through education, Marshall hopes to erase these stigmas.
While he said taking a drug is a person's choice, that choice manifests into something dangerous and becomes like other conditions that takeover the body.
"Once you get addicted, it's a disease ... And it's something very difficult to get rid of," Marshall said.
He said the disease of drug addiction has a 15 percent recovery rate, meaning 85 percent relapse. It's a disease, he added, in which the victim has three options: death, jail or lifetime addiction.
For more information on Cody's Gift or to contact Jim Marshall, go to codysgift.org.