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Ocean County Drug Deaths Double; Vigil Will Remember The Dead

Ocean County overdose deaths hit 102 this week - nearly twice last year's total amount

Sheryl Santiago heard about another possible drug death Monday, this time in Manahawkin. She didn't know the person, didn't know what really happened.

But she still gasped, and even sobbed a little, as if he was one of her own.

"That's 100, I believe," were the first words she said. Earlier this year, Santiago's 31-year-old son, Erik of Toms River, died after years of prescription-medication abuse.

Later, the news got even worse. Authorities said the Ocean County drug death toll actually climbed to 102, with two more possible pending autopsies.

That's nearly twice last year's amount of 53.

With drugs such as heroin becoming so cheap, and prescription meds so readily available, Santiago is working to "give back," and do something so her son's life can mean so much to others, and even stop others from suffering the same fate.

Santiago is working with the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office and others to hold a vigil for the victims, and their families, on Sunday. The event will be held at 2 p.m., at the St. Paul Lutheran Church, at 130 Cable Ave, or the intersection of Routes 9 and. 166, in Beachwood. 

The event's invitation reads:

"Join with the families of Ocean County/In a Candle Light Service of Remembrance/Of those family members and friends/Who died in 2013 from an overdose."

There, Santiago hope to bring people together who have never known each other before. Somehow, perhaps, they'll try to make sense of all this, however unlikely that is.

"I can't wrap my brain around it," she said. "It's an epidemic."

Everyone is welcome to attend, she said. But she did specifically target people like herself who have lost a loved one, and are still grieving.

"I think about it and it's a terribly bad dream," she said.

Santiago said her son, who lived with her in Toms River, was addicted to Xanax. He got himself off it, but he was told that, in order to get any kind of help, he had to be using.

He told his mother not to worry, that he can control it because the meds aren't like the street drugs that can be more dangerous, but just as lethal.

"Then he went asleep forever," she said.

Da Poppa December 06, 2013 at 09:12 AM
A vigil? For OD'd drug addicts? It's like the scholarship they have at the Boro High School for the kid who OD'd. A tragedy, for sure, but let's remember what we're celebrating - someone who died taking illegal drugs.
Melinda Murray December 11, 2013 at 09:56 AM
This seems completely opposite of what the prosecutors office says they are going to do. Lets glorify junkies? Let the young people see that we are celebrating a horrid choice that these people made? Remember your loved ones any way you want. Do not celebrate a junkie. Do not show the kids we celebrate death do to drugs. Shameful!!
Maree L. Meehan December 27, 2013 at 11:59 AM
Gov Christi spoke about addiction the other night on TV. Christi was kind He said addicts need help they are sick. He showed mercy . Young adults don't realize the anatomy of addiction. The false pleasure quickly turns to pain. Families are torn apart by addiction and society suffers the financial burden.
Melinda Murray December 27, 2013 at 09:06 PM
You are right Maree, families are torn apart my own included. People need to realize the recovery rate is so low. SO very low and if your family member comes back from this choosen sickness they are never the same. And all other family members wait for the ball to drop. And the ball will drop! All efforts need to go into prevention. Unfortunately the ones who are addicted need to be left to thier own devices until Judges start hitting people with max sentences. And not for the addict but for society.

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