200 attend anti-drug rally in Towanda
TOWANDA - In February 2011, Marlene Rohe found her 29-year-old son dead in her Athens Township home of an overdose of a prescription drug.
"I never saw it coming," she said, adding that she never expected to have to bury her son from a drug overdose.
Unbeknownst to Rohe, her son, Brandon Schuchardt had started using marijuana in high school. Later, after trying heroin once, he became addicted to the opiate, she said.
Despite two stays in drug rehab centers, one for 30 days and the other for three months, he was not able to kick his habit.
As can occur with heroin addicts, Schuchardt wanted a stronger drug, so he began using Fentanyl, a drug that cancer patients use, which ultimately killed him, Rohe said.
Rohe, who owns the McDonald's restaurant in Sayre, said that drug problems can afflict anybody, regardless of their socioeconomic background.
"He (Schuchardt) came from a good home," she said. "He had a normal upbringing. He went to private schools. He played baseball and basketball. He was very smart and well-read."
Rohe told the story of her son on Thursday morning to an anti-drug rally attended by approximately 200 local high school students and school staff, which took place in front of the Bradford County Courthouse in Towanda.
The rally was part of the National Red Ribbon Campaign, which offers citizens an opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to a drug-free lifestyle.
Bradford County Communities That Care, which is a project of Partners in Family & Community Development, sponsored the rally and is a co-sponsor of the campaign.
Bradford County Commissioner Doug McLinko addressed the rally, noting that drug and alcohol use has a major impact on the population of inmates at Bradford County Correctional Facility, which is now experiencing an overcrowding problem.
"The overcrowding at the Bradford County jail is primarily through (due to) drug and alcohol use," McLinko said.
McLinko said that drug use is risky. Using drugs one time "could ruin your life and hurt your family," he said.
The students at the rally came from all seven public high schools in Bradford County and from the North Rome Christian School. Most of the students at the rally are members of the Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) chapters at their schools, but others were student leaders, including student council members, said Joyce Kerrick, executive director of Partners in Family & Community Development.
At the rally, the students in attendance made a commitment to remain drug free and to encourage others to do the same, said Tracy Miller, the mobilizer for Communities That Care.
Also at the rally, the Bradford County commissioners and some of the students planted tulip bulbs on the lawn of the Bradford County Courthouse, in front of the memorial to slain sheriff's deputies Mike VanKuren and Chris Burgert.
As part of the Red Ribbon Campaign, students and other citizens will be planting the bulbs at various locations throughout Bradford County this month as a commitment to living a drug-free lifestyle, Kerrick said.
When the tulips bloom in April, which is Alcohol Awareness Month, it will serve as a reminder of their commitment, she said.
In an interview, Kerrick noted that student surveys that are conducted by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime & Delinquency (PCCD) have shown a dramatic drop in the use of alcohol among public school students in Bradford County since 1999, the first year the surveys were conducted. For example, in 2011, 43.3 percent of the Bradford County students surveyed said they had used alcohol, down from 57 percent in 2007, she said. The surveys are conducted every two years of students in sixth, eighth, 10th and 12th grades.
Kerrick said the drop shows that "prevention (efforts) are working."
"It just takes time" for them to work, as one event aimed at preventing alcohol or drug use will have only a limited impact, she said.
The more kids are exposed to prevention education and the idea that they need to stand up for themselves and resist peer pressure to make harmful decisions, the bigger an impact there will be, Kerrick said.
In 2011, 31.5 percent of 12th graders surveyed in Bradford County had used marijuana, as had 22.5 percent of the 10th graders who were surveyed, according to Partners in Family & Community Development.
Bradford County Commissioner Mark Smith commended the students at the rally, telling them that they were making a difference.
James Loewenstein can be reached at (570) 265-1633; or email: email@example.com.