Vigil honors Pasco Co. opioid epidemic victims, families

Image 1 of 4

Days after the opioid plague hit certain neighborhoods in Pasco County, a vigil was held to honor victims of the epidemic that has been labeled a public health emergency by the president.

Thomas Healy didn't know his wife, Grace had started using again until the evening of June 2.

"I came home and my son was in his car seat, still screaming," he recalled.

Grace, 32, was on the floor, dead. It had been only 27 days since she delivered their son, EJ. 

"It completely takes everything," said Healy. "Something so small and tiny can just destroy your life, and just wreak havoc, and it does this on anybody who comes in contact with it."

Healy joined with dozens on Thursday night at a conference hall in New Port Richey. Many have loved ones who met the same fate as Grace.

Healy himself has battled addiction for a decade but has been clean for three years.

"You kind of cheat death," he said. "Time and time again, every time, you cheat death."

Pasco deputies say they responded to 10 overdoses just last weekend. In New Port Richey, three have died this month alone.

"We deployed our undercover operations through the narcotics unit to see if we couldn't help identify the source and supplies," said Pasco County Sheriff's Office Capt. Mike Jenkins. "We have been working very hard on that, we have had some success with that, but that is an ongoing investigation."

The president's directive frees up grant money for anti-drug programs, launches an ad campaign, and allows Medicaid to be used for rehab programs.

LINK: Can you recognize the signs of opioid addiction?

"No part of our society, rich or poor, young or old, urban or rural, has been spared this plague," said the president.

Healy wants a law that would allow manslaughter charges to be filed against those who supply drugs.

In the four months since his wife died, he has become a public speaker in hopes that his family will be among the last to feel the effects of the opioid plague.

He speaks for his son.

"He is happy, he is healthy," said Healy. "[He] looks just like his momma. I have the best part of Grace, that's what I always say. I have the best part of her, I have him."

One other part of the president's directive launches research to develop painkillers that are not addictive.