Sarah Stultz: Open eyes, raise voices against overdoses 

Published 8:45 pm Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Nose for News by Sarah Stultz

I often wonder what it would be like if my daughter, Sophie, were still here with us.

Sophie was 8 when she died, and if she were still alive she would now be 14 and at the high school. 

Email newsletter signup

While I know there are a lot of great things happening with the youth in our community, there are also a lot of challenges facing that age group these days. 

These teenagers are facing far more than I feel I had to experience when I was in high school — the mental health challenges are rising, as is drug use among many, and youth are constantly inundated by social media and the internet. Sometimes I almost breathe a sigh of relief that she doesn’t have to worry about some of those things. 

I’m sure I may have to deal with some of those things as my son gets older, but with his developmental disability, right now it seems so far away. 

Maybe that’s why I was so shocked at some of the things I heard Monday when I interviewed family members of 16-year-old Manny Chavez of Albert Lea, who died unexpectedly July 26 after an overdose. 

My heart ached for his family, having lost their loved one only a month ago. 

I left that interview grateful that they shared their story but also scared for many other youth in our community who have fallen victim to drug experimentation — and in many cases addiction — and all before graduating high school.

The Albert Lea Police Department announced last week that there have been four overdoses of young adults between 16 and 27 in the last month, two of which have resulted in death. 

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, an average of four people in Minnesota die each day from a drug overdose, with the total annual number of drug overdose deaths increasing 22% statewide in 2021 from the previous year. The increase was driven by synthetic opioids (fentanyl), psychostimulants (methamphetamine) and cocaine, the department stated. And for every drug overdose death, there were 10 nonfatal overdoses. 

I hope the families who have had to endure these types of challenges in their lives will continue to speak out about this in our community, as I think there are many people who may not realize what is taking place.

I also hope that the conversation can deepen about how to reverse these trends happening both on a local and state level. It’s going to take multiple groups to make a difference in this problem, starting in the home with families and continuing to schools, law enforcement, health care and churches, to name a few.

Please look for Manny’s story in the weekend edition.

I hope it will open your eyes to some of the challenges our youth face but also to the state and local trends in drug overdose that are happening.  

And please, always remember what Manny’s stepmother stated, “One pill can kill.” 

Sarah Stultz is the managing editor of the Tribune. Her column appears every Wednesday.