CHARLESTON, W.Va. — United States Attorney Mike Stuart has launched a program that will be at schools across his southern district aimed at educating children about the dangers of drugs.

Stuart said Tuesday at Elkview Middle School during the opening of United States Attorney’s Heroin(e) Education Action Team (USA HEAT) that the program is not just going to be a tour of law enforcement officials preaching to kids. He said the program is in partnership with families who have lost loved ones to drug overdose, and students will hear their stories.

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U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart

“This is about moms and dads and relatives who have lost someone or have had somebody who has struggled with substance abuse,” Stuart said. “We want them to hear those stories. Every one of these kids here has a mom, dad, grandma, or grandpa that loves them a great deal. We want these kids to hear from the perspective from someone who has lost someone.”

Stacie Archer, a USA HEAT Team Member, and mother of a former Elkview Middle student who died in 2013 after substance abuse, spoke with students and told them how much her life has changed since her son, Joel’s passing.

“I am still looking for a new normal in life,” she said. “I don’t think I will ever really have that. As far as for me, I want to go out and help communities, I want to help moms and dads, I want to help anyone that is struggling.

“I want to give them hope. I do want them to know that it is not the path they want to take and it is not anything they want to put their family through.”

Stuart said it was no mistake that Elkview Middle was the first school stop for the new program. In 2016, the community was devastated by flooding and destroyed Herbert Hoover High School and Clendenin Elementary School. The high school remains in portable buildings outside on the campus of the middle school.

“We think there is no better place to bring a message of hope and optimism,” Stuart said. “Let all these kids know that there are folks who love them and care for them. We are going to root for their success and hope they make the right choice when posed with the choice of using drugs.”

Elkview Middle School Principal Melissa Lovejoy also spoke on Tuesday as representatives from Kanawha County Schools and the Kanawha County Sheriff’s Department were also on hand.

Jake Flatley/wvmetronews.com

USA HEAT will be at schools across Stuart’s southern district.

According to USA HEAT, over 70,000 drug overdose deaths occurred in the United States in 2017 as West Virginia leads the nation in overdose deaths at a rate of 57.8 per 100,000. That number is two and a half times the national average. USA HEAT also said that over 6,000 children are currently in foster care, a crisis that is being driven by the drug epidemic.

“A lot of these children who are going to be right here listening to these presentations are going to be at-risk youth,” Stuart said. “They have a tough home life, they have a mom and dad whether it may be substance abuse in the home. Maybe they are being raised by a grandma, a grandpa, an aunt or an uncle.

“We want these folks to know whatever they dream of they can achieve, whatever their goals are can be done. We are going to be here and fight for them every step of the way.”

A school, organization or community can schedule a presentation by USA HEAT by contacting the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

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