Michigan Association of Health Plans

The Class of 2000 ‘Could Have Been Anything’

The Minford High School Class of 2000, in rural Minford, Ohio, began its freshman year as a typical class. It had its jocks and its cheerleaders, its slackers and its overachievers.

But by the time the group entered its final year, its members said, painkillers were nearly ubiquitous, found in classrooms, school bathrooms and at weekend parties.

Over the next decade, Scioto County, which includes Minford, would become ground zero in the state’s fight against opioids. It would lead Ohio with its rates of fatal drug overdoses, drug-related incarcerations and babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome.

To understand both the scope and the devastating consequences of what is now a public health crisis, we talked to dozens of members of the Class of 2000. Many opened up to us about struggles with addiction, whether their own or their relatives’. They told us about the years lost to getting high and in cycling in and out of jail, prison and rehab. They mourned the three classmates whose addictions killed them.

In all of the interviews, one thing was clear: Opioids have spared relatively no one in Scioto County; everyone appears to know someone whose life has been affected by addiction.

‘OxyContin Just Started Showing Up’

Purdue Pharma introduced its opioid painkiller, OxyContin, in 1996, when the Class of 2000 entered high school. Some students began experimenting, often combining prescription opiates with alcohol at parties.

For many, what started as a weekend dalliance morphed swiftly into an all-consuming dependence. They swallowed opiates before school, snorted painkillers in the bathrooms and crushed up pills with a baseball on desks at the back of classrooms.

“OxyContin just started showing up at parties around junior year. People wanted to try it. It was fun. It got to where kids were doing it in the parking lot before school. By senior year it was so common.” – Ashley Moore,a cheerleader and a member of the honor society. Her sister became addicted and is now in recovery.

“I started seeing a lot of pills around 15 years old and I told myself I was never going to do them. But kids were selling Oxys at school for $3 a pill. By the time I was 19, I was looking in every medicine cabinet and bathroom. All of my close friends, we all turned into drug addicts.” – Jonathan Whitt, on the golf team and became addicted to painkillers when he was 16. At 28, he switched to intravenous opioid use and then heroin. He has been jailed at least 10 times and has done multiple stints in rehab. He has been in recovery for four years.

“I had orthopedic surgery and managed to go to a home basketball game. Hanging out with some classmates, I had one kid approach me, ask about my surgery, then ask if I had pills to add to the collection. I declined and he went off to a small group and started handing out pills. I never carried any drugs with me because of the issues we had in Minford.” – Christopher Henry,moved to Minford when he was a sophomore and said he saw students exchanging or taking pills at church and at parties. He worked for 10 years at pharmacies and said they were often robbed for opiate painkillers. A relative from his previous marriage was addicted to opioids.

“My first encounter with drugs was one day at lunch. They were snorting pills on the bleachers. I had no idea people even snorted pills. My friend said they snort them to get high faster. Then you started having people overdosing. Before I knew it, people who were in high school doing drugs just to be cool, they had a real problem.” – Miranda McGinnis, football homecoming queen and still lives in Minford. Though she said she never tried drugs, a relative is in recovery.

Addiction Knows No Boundaries

Over the next decade, many members of the Class of 2000 spent their 20s getting college degrees and starting families. Others did anything they could to avoid withdrawal.

Friends and relatives began overdosing or getting arrested, or both. Some went to prison. Some became drug dealers and said they were now plagued with guilt at having fueled countless addictions.

In 2010, Scioto County would lead Ohio in the number of opioid prescriptions, with enough to give 123 pills to each resident.

“The consequences started happening in college. By this point I was physically dependent on OxyContin, but it was very easy to tell myself, ‘I don’t do crack, I don’t shoot up.’ That messed me up for a really long time.” – Jake Bradshaw, member of the baseball and soccer teams. His opioid addiction, which at one point cost him $400 a day, led to heroin and cocaine and continued through multiple stints in rehab and jail. In recovery since 2013, he founded the blog “Humans of Addiction” and is now working in the drug treatment industry.

“Pain management was part of treatment. I went to school and noticed if I took two pills instead of one, my day was a little bit better. The doctor kept prescribing them; I kept taking them. I was 21 when I got clean. I actually got arrested and went to outpatient treatment. I didn’t want to go to prison, I didn’t want to die.” – Melissa Pace,in high school chorus and a class officer. She was prescribed opioids after a car accident her senior year. She is now a critical care paramedic and has treated several of her former classmates for overdoses.

“The year after I graduated, my best friend and I noticed other kids in our friend group were getting into car wrecks. She and I are the only ones who haven’t been to rehab, haven’t lost our kids. We look back and think, ‘How did we not get addicted to this stuff?’ Because every single person in our group of friends got addicted.”- Jessica Daugherty, homecoming attendant and in the school’s vocational track. She said she tried opioids but didn’t like the taste. Several of her cousins are addicted to drugs, including one who is now in prison for the second time.

“It didn’t matter what your social status was because everyone was doing OxyContin. I got into a car wreck in ’99 and the doctor prescribed me liquid Vicodin. Then someone introduced me to Oxys when I was 21. I went to a bar when I was 23, high on Xanaxes, Oxy, alcohol. I got into a fight and didseven years in the penitentiary. When I got out, I stayed away from everybody. That’s what saved me.” – Ralph Boggs,played baseball and basketball. At least 10 of his family members have been addicted to drugs.

“I don’t remember a lot of high school because I was messed up on drugs. By senior year, I realized I had a problem. I had one good friend in high school who helped me through it. Once I got cleaned up, other people were getting into it heavy. I kind of stay away from the area. It’s heartbreaking to even go back. For me, once you’re truly recovered you have to fight to stay clean.” – Melissa Kratzenberg, in the honor society, marching band and art club. Shestarted using pain pills as a freshman and stopped after she drank nearly an entire bottle of liquid hydrocodone when she was a senior. Several relatives have struggled with drugs, one of whom died after 20 years of addiction.

‘We Could Have Been Anything’

For the Minford High School Class of 2000, the opioid crisis is personal. Its members feel it daily when they remember those who died from overdoses, or those who continue to struggle with addiction.

Since this class graduated, more than 400,000 Americans have died from opioid overdoses. As many as 275 have died in Scioto County.

“I just remember getting that call. They are calling it an overdose, cocaine, which was not his drug of choice. I have a brother-in-law who died a month later, and we have another still in active addiction, we’re afraid he’s going to go, too. We lost five in three months. The craziest thing is we never lost anybody significant until I got sober, then everybody started dying. I have a book full of obituaries.” – Dawnielle Bravo said her brother Daniel Bravo, who was a member of the language club and football and baseball teams, started using drugs when he was about 12. He spent time in prison and fatally overdosed in June 2018, leaving behind one child. The mother of his son also died of an overdose, as have many of his cousins. Several family members remain addicted, and Dawnielle has been in recovery for four years.

“I go to recovery meetings every Wednesday. I tell them stories about my addiction and how I had the will to get clean. But I feel guilt in different ways, for sharing and offering to people who I know have gone way too far with it. To this day I ask God for forgiveness.” – Lee Easter, played on the high school baseball and soccer teams. He started smoking marijuana when he was 9 and became addicted to opioids his freshman year. He soon began dealing drugs, including cocaine and heroin. He was 30 and high on a mix of painkillers and whiskey when he was in an accident. He has been in recovery for three years.

“When I worked at the sheriff’s department I started seeing my classmates, a lot of them. When they come through here, we kind of reminisce, talk about how we’re approaching 40 years old, and catch up on family. If they’re really bad into drugs you can see it.” – Kasey Boone, played soccer and was in the school musical. He enlisted in the military but later returned to Minford and joined law enforcement. He became a probation officer in 2013, and said he has seen about 15 percent of his classmates on probation and more than 20 percent at the jail. Several of his relatives have become addicted to opioids — one is in prison and another fatally overdosed.

“I don’t think there is anyone who hasn’t been affected.” – Jillian Salisbury, voted “Most Likely To Succeed” and became a veterinarian. Two of her cousins have been to prison for addiction-related convictions and another cousin fatally overdosed.

“I don’t think I noticed how bad it was until after we graduated. We started hearing so-and-so died of an overdose, so-and-so is on drugs. Oh my God, it’s a lot of my classmates.” – Stephanie Twinam, was in Bible club, chorus and honor society. While she never did drugs, she and her husband have permanent custody of their nieces, one of whom was born dependent on heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine. One of her cousins became addicted to drugs.

“It’s been eight years and I still miss that feeling of being high. So many of my best friends are either dead or in a wheelchair from drugs. We were like a group of siblings. You just see so much sadness. We could have been anything, done anything.” – Brooklyn Frazie, was senior prom queen and a member of the Bible club and chorus. She first tried painkillers the summer after graduation and became a drug dealer to finance her addiction, which spiraled into injecting heroin. She spent much of her 20s cycling in and out of jail and prison, and has been in recovery since 2011. Nearly 10 of her cousins are also recovering from addiction.

“I teach English. Sometimes they write about it, sometimes I know about it because there’s a note in their file, ‘Dad’s not allowed to pick them up because Dad’s on drugs,’ or they’ll be moved out of home and placed into foster care.” – Katie Hall, was in Bible club and honor society. She does not recall seeing any drug use during high school. But she is now a high school teacher and sees the impact on her students, some of whom have parents using opioids. Two of her family members have struggled with addiction.

“We’ve lost so many kids, not just in my grade, all the grades around my age, because of drugs. I’m raising a niece because of the drug problem. It got real bad a couple of years after we graduated. But I never left. There are so many good people here.” – Brian Slusher, has several cousins who became addicted, including one who died in July, and another who took his life. Since January, he has been raising his brother-in-law’s 16-year-old daughter because her parents are struggling with addiction.

The New York Times tried reaching every one of the 110 members of the Class of 2000. Of the 49 classmates — or relatives of classmates — who were interviewed, 15 reported a current or former addiction to opioids.

At least 37 have family members who are grappling with addiction or are in recovery. At least 10 said they have been arrested or incarcerated for crimes related to their addiction. And three class members died of overdoses or from drug-related causes.

The interviews were edited for brevity and clarity.

This article appeared in The New York Times. Read more here.