Last year there was a spike in deaths from heroin overdoses in Hanover County. According to full-year data from the Sheriff’s Office, the county saw a 350 percent increase in the number of overdoses related to the narcotic in 2013 and the amount of deaths quadrupled that same year.
So far in 2014, there have been three heroin overdoses, but no deaths have resulted from the drug.
Though the numbers are low at this point, the drug took the life of Travis Pierce, a 21-year-old Mechanicsville resident, who died in his family’s home from a heroin overdose last June after being clean for almost nine months straight.
Now, his father Barry Pierce, a coach and employee at Collegiate School, is fighting to help young adults who might be in a similar situation, because he does not want anyone else to undergo the pain and loss that his family has endured over the past year.
“I feel that, given the opportunity, through my words and with what I’ve been through with Travis, I lived it for nine years, I know beyond a shadow of doubt that I can help somebody,” Pierce said. “That’s my main goal in life now— to honor my son.”
Like many parents, Pierce’s son meant everything to him.
Pierce said Travis was almost like his “mini-me.” The duo shared a love for sports, grilling, animals, “flashy” shoes, and even a similar receding hairline despite the age difference.
“The only thing that we were different in was his taste for drugs,” Pierce said.
Pierce’s son was smart, caring and genuine. He was always loyal to his friends and family. Pierce said recently one of Travis’ friends told him that his son didn’t have an enemy in the world.
But, a big part of Travis’ personality was trying to be the best at absolutely anything he did. And with drugs, he would always take it one step further, Pierce said.
“That wasn’t exactly what I had in mind, when I [told him]: be the best that you can be in everything you do,” Pierce said.
And that’s how it was with drugs. Pierce said his knowledge of Travis’ love-hate relationship with drugs began with marijuana use, while he was in middle school. Pierce said that his son’s friends introduced him to drugs. From there, Travis started doing prescription narcotics and hallucinogens. Then he moved on to cocaine and the “final stop” was doing heroin.
“Looking back, we probably didn’t do everything correct that we should have, but we tried,” Pierce said.
Though the Pierces lost a beloved family member, they are trying to do everything they can to help others suffering from drug abuse in honor of Travis. Recently the family started the Travis Pierce memorial fund that will support the Henrico Drug Court, an intense program for drug abusers that includes random drug tests, fees, home visits and a curfew. Participants must also have a landline at their home, transportation to meetings and required employment among other program requirements.
The family is organizing and hosting a number of fundraisers to support the program. One of the big events will be a golf tournament in Glen Allen over the summer, which will feature a silent auction and other events. Pierce believes they will raise about $3,000 with that event.
The memorial fund will directly support two main programs that Drug Court participants take part in including the “fish bowl,” where punctual individuals are rewarded for arriving on time to meetings by being entered to win “vouchers” and gift cards, transportation assistance to help people get to their meetings and appointments by providing them with bus or taxi cab vouchers and passes. With the proceeds from the future golf tournament, the family would be able to fund the two programs for about six months.
As per Travis’ father’s request, each month, the program will recognize a participant that “goes above and beyond” with an award in memory and honor of Travis and $100, not in cash, but in the form of extra support for a bus pass, food or any other help needed.
For about nine months, Travis was enrolled in the Henrico Drug Court program. But even before that, he tried numerous times to get clean but the habit kept coming back. Travis also attended a few other rehabilitation centers before starting the program in Henrico.
“He wanted so hard to be clean,” Pierce said. “And I know he did not want to die.”
But drugs still got Pierce’s son into trouble throughout his life. He had five felony charges against him for prescription fraud and was incarcerated several times.
Because of Travis’ extensive drug use over the course of his life, he had a serious blood-clotting problem and was on blood thinners. Pierce said that at one point a doctor told his son that if he ever shot up heroin again, it would kill him.
Pierce said he attributes to Travis’ addiction problem or disease, which is a big aspect of why his son struggled so much with drugs.
“It’s not their fault,” Pierce said. “Their brain is telling them they have to have this to survive.”
At one point, Travis’ uncle, Tim Pierce tried his best to help his nephew overcome the addiction and would escort his nephew to many meetings with probation officers and counselors in the program. During his involvement, Travis’ uncle said he became aware of the lack of funding.
The purpose of the Travis Pierce memorial fund is not only to help the participants in the Henrico drug court program, but also assist the program itself and give it the financial support needed to keep it running.
“If we could do things to support [the program], to get more funds and help those kinds of people because their hands are tied in certain respects,” the uncle said.
Giving back to the people and program that reached out and helped Travis is his family’s way of getting by and trying to recover.
Travis’s stepmom, Carrie Pierce, has a son currently in addiction and alcoholism rehabilitation in-patient center and is doing everything in her power to make sure she does not lose another child.
“It’s almost impossible to recover from the loss of a kid,” she said.
Even with her son and Travis’ older brother, Tyler, still alive, the Pierce family said there is still a void. Carrie and Barry Pierce still struggle with the loss.
But Barry Pierce said the one thing that helps him get through the tough times is talking.
And he has not stopped since the day after Travis died. Pierce wants to inspire young adults and children to stay away from drugs or if they do get caught up in it, he wants them to reach out for help and go through any hardships with their parents and family.
“I’m not trying to be a hero. I’m not trying to be a vigilante. I’m just a dad with a broken heart trying to carry [Travis’] legacy on,” Pierce said.
When he shares his experiences at churches and various other speaking opportunities, Pierce tells parents not to worry about being too nosey when it concerns their children’s whereabouts or what their kids are doing from day-to-day. Pierce said it is also important for families to never give up on their child or family member who is abusing drugs.
And Pierce will continue to share advice for those suffering families and for his son every chance he gets.
“If just one person, through my words, keeps a needle out of their arm or a pill down their throat — what better way to honor my son?” Pierce said.
For more information about the memorial fund, visit: http://www.travispiercefund.com/index.html