Lea Edgecomb never regained the ability to walk after she overdosed on heroin her freshman year in high school.
“I had no idea what I had been through,” Lea said, as she sat in her wheelchair and described the experience of waking up in a hospital bed after three months in a coma. “Everything that happened that night, people have told me.”
Ever since the night she tried heroin in 2009, Lea, 18, of Germantown, has been offering her story as a warning. She speaks at high schools all over Maryland, at treatment centers and other organizations hoping to dissuade young people from using drugs.
“Lea is a very courageous young lady,” said Montgomery County Police 5th District Cmdr. Luther Reynolds. Reynolds was so inspired by her story, he and another officer built a ramp outside her house.
Tonight, Lea will be a guest speaker at a community forum at Damascus High School. The event, which is from 7 to 9 p.m., was coordinated by the Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Advisory Council of Montgomery County. The keynote speaker is Darrell Butler, an addictions specialist.
Tracey Butler, the Department of Health and Human Services liaison to the advisory council, said the intention is to make sure the community is aware of the extent of the problem of addiction and where to find help.
Lea’s mother, Lisa Essich, said she thought she was doing all the right things as a parent. Essich is from a small town in Maine, where heroin overdoses were something you only heard about on the news. It was always “Janis Joplin or junkies shooting up," she said.
“I had no idea," Essich said. "I was completely blindsided. I didn't think it was out there like that. I didn't think that a 15-year-old could get it.”
Lea is considered a spastic quadriplegic, a condition caused by extensive brain damage, according to the National Institutes of Health. Lea went into cardiac arrest, triggered by the overdose, which caused damage to the right side of her brain, her mother said.
Lea is able to move her neck but has limited mobility in her arms. She can barely shake your hand. As for the future, Lea said that she was thankful she survived the ordeal wants to continue sharing her story with others.
“I felt like I had to pay it forward, give something back, help other kids,” Lea said.
The county provides addiction services for residents with low incomes and who lack health insurance coverage. The county has $3.8 million in place for addictions this budget year, health and human services spokeswoman Mary Anderson said.
The Behavioral Health Access Team, which Anderson said was a telephone and walk-in service, is a starting place for help.
On average, the county conducts about 100,000 urine tests a year. Roughly 3 percent of them test positive for opiates and heroin, according to figures Anderson provided.
Reynolds said that drug abuse was not a victimless crime. He said there is often a correlation between drug-ridden neighborhoods and high numbers of thefts, burglaries and assaults.
To combat the problems of addiction, Reynolds said police rely on help from the community — from people like Lea.
“We can’t do it ourselves,” Reynolds said. “We know that.”
If You Go …
What: “The Changing Faces of Addiction,” a community forum on addiction featuring:
- Keynote address, “Breaking the Chain of Opiate and Heroin Addiction,” from addiction specialist Darrell Butler
- Guest speaker 18-year-old Germantown resident Lea Edgecombe, who has been paralyzed from the neck down since a 2009 heroin overdose.
When: 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday
Where: Damascus High School
More: Members of the Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Advisory Council of Montgomery County (AODAAC), an advisory board to the County Executive, will be on hand to hear from residents about their suggestions, concerns and questions about parent involvement, awareness of the signs and symptoms of addiction and discussion of the different types of treatments.
Contact: Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call Tracey Butler at 240-777-4392.