WEIRTON - While there may have been some magic taking place at the Millsop Community Center Wednesday night, the message was clear for those in attendance.
The Hancock-Brooke-Weirton Drug Task Force and Never Alone W.Va. teamed up Wednesday to present "There's No Magic With Drugs," an event which included discussions with some of those who have fought drug addictions, some who have lost family members to drugs and many of those out on the front lines fighting the battle against drugs every day.
The program also included a magic show with a message.
Patti Barnabei, founder of Never Alone, explained the program was part of the organization's continuing mission to spread the word about drugs in the local communities and to find ways to help those dealing with addiction.
"It is a disease, and we cannot hide the fact every family has a skeleton in the closet," Barnabei said.
Barnabei said between August and March, there were 66 overdoses in Weirton. Wednesday's event was an opportunity, she said, for families to hear this information from area doctors, law enforcement, emergency medical technicians, pharmacists and prosecuting attorneys.
DISCUSSES HIS STRUGGLES — Josh Flati, center, discusses his own experiences with drug use and his struggles to turn his life around. Flati is joined by DEA agent Mark Simala, left, and Never Alone founder Patti Barnabei, right. -- Craig Howell
Mark Simala, an agent with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, explained drugs are finding their way to even younger children these days.
"These kids are getting introduced to drugs at such an early age," he said, noting the DEA has found children in first, second and third grades using some type of drug.
The magic show, aimed at some of the younger children in the audience, also carried the anti-drug message as the magician explained things like misdirection and distraction are commonly used in magic as well as by those using and distributing drugs.
The audience then heard from 25-year-old Josh Flati, who started using drugs at the age of 11, has been to prison on multiple occasions and has only recently started to turn his life around.
Flati explained he began his drug use by smoking marijuana, but it eventually spread to taking pain pills, heroin and Oxycontin. Flati described his drug habit, using a brick of heroin a day, and the pain of withdrawal because he had become so dependent on the drugs.
"It's a feeling I wouldn't wish on anyone," Flati said. "You feel like you're dying."
Flati said after going to prison, he started looking for help to turn things around. He has been clean for 20 months, now owns a car, is going to school and working a full-time job.
Those in attendance also heard from Kim Pulice, a member of Never Alone whose son, Nathan, died in November 2008 from a drug overdose. He was 25.
"From the time he was 18 years old, he struggled with addiction," she said.
She described how Nathan took a trip after high school and became addicted to heroin. She also described being in denial about the problem for a long time, but eventually seeing her son go to prison and rehab programs. Nathan died, she said, while visiting his girlfriend shortly before Thanksgiving.
"I was planning a big Thanksgiving dinner, and instead I planned a funeral," Pulice said. "These drugs are a beast and they are killing our children."
Pulice told those gathered they need to look for the signs of drug use, to talk to their children and to get them help the moment they suspect something is going on.
The program concluded with Simala showing pictures of a variety of drugs, including heroin, Oxycontin, methamphetamine, bath salts and synthetic marijuana. Audience members also got the opportunity to ask questions from the panel of area law enforcement officials and medical personnel.
(Howell can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @CHowellWDT)