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Lives remembered, stereotypes challenged at overdose vigil

Even someone with a good home, good family, good job and all-around good life can fall victim to addiction.

Community members gathered Thursday in an effort to shed the stigma of addiction and grieve for those who have lost their lives to drugs and alcohol.

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"No one knew what I was hiding, but every time I looked in the mirror, I was looking at a drug addict," keynote speaker Keith Mills said.

Mills, a prominent area sportscaster, shared his story of prescription pill addiction, which culminated in his arrest in 2006 when he stole pills from his neighbor's house.

"Here I am, an upstanding person in the community, right?" he said to the crowd gathered at St. John's Portico in Westminster on Thursday night for a drug overdose and prevention vigil hosted by the State's Attorney's Office.

More than 75 names were read and candles lit by friends and family members who have lost loved ones to addiction.

"Behind the names are real people, real families and real friends," State's Attorney Brian DeLeonardo said. "The face of addiction has many forms."

Cooper Yelton was one of those faces, sharing his tale of addiction and recovery.

Yelton said drug use ceased to be a choice for him when he was in active addiction.

"I wanted to get sober," he said. "I knew that drugs and alcohol were ruining my life, but I lost the power of choice."

To get sober, he said he had to learn to be honest with himself. He has been clean for nearly two years.

Beth Schmidt's son Sean lost his battle with addiction in December 2013, and she told the assembled crowd the indignity associated with drug addiction needs to end because kids are ashamed to ask for help.

"We need to stand proud for our kids," she said. "We need to get rid of that stigma."

Sean Schmidt died when he was 23 after going to rehab and detoxing.

"He didn't want to be this person," she said. "He didn't want to let this drug take over his life again."

Schmidt begged parents to make sure their children know they can come to them for help and do not need to hide addiction or deal with it alone.

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Tim Weber echoed Schmidt's sentiments that people need to be advocates.

Weber has been sober since Nov. 8, 2003, and he attributes his recovery to his choice to help others. Weber operates sober homes and coordinates the Triangle Recovery Club, a hope for 12-step meetings of all kinds.

"In order for me to stay clean and sober, I have to help other people," Weber said.

Weber tried many rehab programs and sober homes and spent time homeless.

He told the crowd about waking up after an overdose with paramedics around him telling him he had stopped breathing and offering help. He refused.

Weber finally found a rehab facility that taught the 12-step method and a switch flipped for him.

"I'm not ashamed of where I came from," he said.

Mills also spoke of attending rehab but not really taking the message to heart. He said he left and thought he was cured, going to a few self-help meetings before ceasing because he wasn't like those "real" drug addicts.

"What an idiot I was," he said.

Mills cautioned anyone thinking of trying any form of substance to rethink the decision.

"Once it gets ahold of you … it does not let go," he said.

Reach staff writer Heather Cobun at 410-857-7898 or email heather.cobun@carrollcountytimes.com.

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