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Education after tragedy

Posted on Monday, February 27, 2017 at 10:46 am

Rosalind Watkins describes her late stepson, Henry Watkins, this way; “He was a fighter with a strong willed personality.” When discussing his achievements, both academic and athletic, her pride is undeniable.

In the same breathe that she used to describe his many accomplishments she has to say the thing no parent ever wants to say: “It was hard to watch him fight so hard to beat something and not win.”

Henry passed away from an accidental overdose in 2010 at 21 years old. He was preparing to return to school at James Madison University when he went to his father, John Watkins, and finally revealed what he had been going through. “I can’t go back to school, I can’t stop,” Is how Rosalind remembers Henry’s first confession.

Henry’s addiction to opioids began when he received an OxyContin prescription due to a football injury. When he came to his parents with the truth they reacted the way most people do, they sought out medical help for him while pleading with him to stop.

Now, Rosalind realizes that it’s nearly impossible for a person to “just stop” when an addiction takes hold. “The reality is the craving is much stronger than your will power, it doesn’t work that way,” Rosalind said.

Slowly, the Watkins learned just what their son was facing and how addiction is an illness, and not a choice. Medical professionals who tried to help Henry also educated his family on just how addiction works.

One doctor in particular said something that helped Rosalind truly understand just what Henry was up against.

The doctor told Henry that his chances of beating this disease were 3 percent. The statistic is what helped Rosalind see just how bad this disease is.

Henry was three months sober when his grandmother passed away unexpectedly. His closeness with her is what ultimately led to his relapse. Henry died exactly one week later.

A few months after Henry passed away two other friends had children pass away due to opioid overdose. It was then that Rosalind realized just how widespread this epidemic has become. She has spent the last seven years working to end the stigma attached to opioid abuse, and to give help to those in need.

One fact she tries to spread is just how similar heroin and prescription opioids are.

“If you look at OxyContin and heroin, and their chemical make up, they’re identical,” Rosalind said.

However, Rosalind does more than just speak about the subject in the hopes of removing the stigma. She founded the John Henry Watkins Foundation which helps to fund Rams in Recovery, and other organizations meant to help college students struggling with addiction.

Rosalind will be one of the panelists at the screening of “Chasing the Dragon” taking place Feb. 27, at 7 p.m. at First Baptist Church (Ellis Hall) 800 Thompson Street. After the 45 minute documentary Rosalind and other panelists will answer questions and discuss how to prevent, and treat opioid addiction.