Overdose victims' parents spread message for other parents: Try conversation, not confrontation

It’s a group no one ever wants to be a part of, yet there are a group parents who are together because they have one thing in common: they all lost someone they love to drugs and alcohol.

They are all part of a non-profit organization, “N.O.P.E.,” or Narcotics Overdose Prevention and Education.

“She had eyes and a smile that would brighten every room she walked into," said one parent, Lynn Knowles. "She had a laugh that was so distinctive you couldn’t help but laugh a long with her when she laughed. She was warm, she was caring, she loved animals and music. She wanted a big bright future.”

Lynne has a smile on her face but tears in her eyes as she describes her daughter, Jamie. Her little girl was just 23 years old when she died of a heroin overdose. 

“My daughter got great grades and went to school every day. Her life was pretty normal, but there was another side to her that she kept hidden and many children do this,” said Lynne. 

She tried everything she could to help Jamie. Her daughter went to counseling, 12-step programs and treatment, but nothing could stop the disease from progressing.

“It grabs a hold of people, it grabs a hold of people suddenly and so deeply that we can’t even fathom what they're going through,” said Lynne. “I know we can't stop this from happening 100 percent, but we can help parents not go through what we went through.”

Lynne is helping raise awareness through N.O.P.E. The volunteers share their message with students across Tampa Bay.

Laura Sun-Engelberger’s son, Brandon, died from an accidental drowning in 2016. She said he was partying near the Skyway Bridge when he disappeared. His friends left and never called police. Then, 33 hours later, a fisherman found his body near the pier. Now, Laura educates kids about the Good Samaritan Law. 

“I speak to kids regarding don't be afraid. The 9-1-1 Good Samaritan Law will protect you if you've been out partying, drinking, doing illegal drugs. You won’t be legally held responsible,” said Laura. 

Cathy Valdez knows the importance of teaching kids about the dangers of drugs. She's a retired assistant superintendent for Hillsborough County and helped bring N.O.P.E. into the school district. She lost her son Michael to addiction in 2008. Her message to parents: If you want to get through to your kids, try conversation, not confrontation. 

“Be alert. Be vigilant. If you suspect something, then have a discussion. You don’t have to just confront them, but have a discussion so you can open that door and help them,” said Cathy. 

And even though they know their hearts will never fully heal, sharing their story helps dulls their pain. 

“It gets softer. There’s a hole in my heart that will be there forever. My soul is broken. She is gone. I can't bring her back, but I can help other people to honor her and to honor her life," Lynne said. "That's what she'd want me to. She would want me to have a good life and I’m trying to do that."

LINK: If you or someone you know is struggling with drugs and alcohol, contact N.O.P.E. of Hillsborough County.