Gathered at Waunakee High School last week, parents, students and community members faced a harsh tragedy becoming all too common throughout Wisconsin.

Brigette Henschel recounted her daughter’s heroin overdose death during a Town Hall meeting organized by the Waunakee Community Cares Coalition.

“The most important reason I am here today, I am the voice Amalia no longer has,” Henschel said. “I know she would want me to bring awareness to this growing epidemic.”

Today, Henschel is the founder of Amalia’s Hope, bringing the message of awareness and prevention to schools and community groups across the state.

Earlier that day on Oct. 5, during Waunakee’s Homecoming Week, Henschel relayed her message to students during three different assemblies.

She told the group that evening that she asked the students if they see drug abuse in the community and school, and if they know someone who uses drugs. Seventy-five to 80 percent of the students raised their hands, Henschel said.

“More than 90 percent of people with addiction began using as a teenager,” Henschel said. “The abuse starts in high school.”

At the time, those teenagers never think their drug use will lead to addiction.

Amalia

That was the case with Amalia Henschel, who died at age 21 in 2012.

Henschel described a happy, popular girl who loved sports up until her junior year when she suddenly had a new set of friends.

Still, her grades were good, and during her senior year, she attended classes at Fox Valley College. After graduation, she attended college part time and modeled for an apparel catalog.

“She was a very typical, all-American girl that every parent would be proud to have as a daughter,” Henschel said. “It sure looked like she was headed in the right direction.”

And then Amalia began to lose her motivation to go to class.

“We thought she needed a timeout,” Henschel said. “She was over 18, so we were just giving her space.”

The Henschels expected Amalia to do some “partying,” but they began to find marijuana and prescription pain pills in her room.

“We started talking to her about straightening her life out. She said we were overreacting – she didn’t have a problem,” Henschel said.

In 2011, the family did an intervention, and Amalia entered a 30-day treatment program in Oshkosh before starting another program in Fond du Lac.

At the end of January 2012, Amalia came home.

“She sure looked like she was a changed person,” Henschel said.

Then on April 11, Amalia got together with a friend who gave her heroin. The two went to a bar, and she went for a walk. Amalia overdosed on a porch less than 100 feet from the bar’s back door. Her parents watched the overdose on a video.

“One of the things I was told is that addiction is a disease, and it’s very hard to overcome on the first, second or even third try,” Henschel said.

Finding support

Henschel was followed by Julie Williams, director of online support for Wisconsin United We CAN (Change Addiction Now).

Williams’ daughter is a recovering addict who began using drugs around the age of 13 or 14.

“I was in denial,” Williams said, adding that she blamed her daughters’ friends. Then the high school dean told Williams that her daughter was using drugs.

“I was the enabler – the warning signs were all there,” she added.

Williams found different pills in her room, along with paraphernalia and marijuana.

“I called the police on my daughter many times by the age of 16,” Williams said.

Eventually, her daughter entered a court-ordered rehabilitation treatment. Her daughter relapsed afterwards and again entered treatment.

Today, she lives on her own and has a healthy baby of her own.

But Williams said she still panics if her doesn’t hear from her daughter and is afraid of a relapse.

She finds support from other parents and other resources at Wisconsin United We CAN. Williams attends Al Anon meetings, where family members of addicts find support, and her daughter attends Narcotics Anonymous meetings.

The evening was organized by the Waunakee Community Cares Coalition, a organization comprising leaders from the school, faith and law enforcement communities and health fields, among others.

WCCC formed about four years ago in response to concerns about Waunakee students’ drug and alcohol use, along with mental health issues. Its mission is “Creating conditions and opportunities that develop positive healthy development.”

For more information about the Waunakee Community Cares Coalition or to get involved, email waunakeecares@gmail.com.

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