Losing a child to a drug overdose would cause most parents to spiral into despair.  And that's exactly what happened to former Seattle television personality Penny Legate in 2012. 

But now, nearly four years later, Legate's love for her daughter is moving her to fight the heroin epidemic that's sweeping the country, killing people of all ages and backgrounds.

Legate said her daughter Marah Williams was a happy child, but began struggling with depression and anxiety as she entered puberty.  Marah was also a curious girl who liked to experiment.

"She got into opiate use.   I believed it started with Oxycontin, oxycodone, from people's medicine cabinets and it led to heroin," Legate said.

The family rallied to get Marah help.  Legate said they brought a psychologist on board, sent Marah to drug treatment, encouraged her to admit her problem, and Marah did.  

"She (Marah) said ‘I'm a drug addict'.  She would talk publicly about it.   She fought very hard to get well. She went to AA every day, she did the 12 step program, she got a sponsor," Legate said.

Marah was an athlete too - she played fast pitch softball for Garfield High in Seattle. Legate has a photo of Marah proudly holding the game ball in her last outing.  It was her senior year in high school. 

"She was clean, sober and feeling great," Legate said.

It looked like Marah had kicked the addiction. 

"She seemed like she was getting better, and then I found her gone in her room, at our house where we lived together.  At some point she decided to use again and she died," Legate said.

Marah was 19 years old.

"If I'd known she was using again, I would have had Narcan in my home," Legate said.

 Narcan us one brand name for Naloxone, a drug that blocks the effects of opioids.

"People are revived, they don't die," Legate said.  "It truly is a miraculous drug because instantly you revive someone who's dying of a heroin overdose."

Through the Marah Project, a foundation set up in her daughter's name, Legate recently purchased $4,500 worth of Narcan kits for Seattle police who will begin training to use the antidote on Tuesday, March 15.  That's the day Marah would have turned 23 - if she'd lived.

Steve Redmond, Seattle Police Safety Officer, said the initial roll out will be with 30 bike officers in the West, East and North Precincts.

"They're out in areas where they're likely to on view someone who has gone down by an overdose," said Redmond, who is a big believer in the power of Narcan.

 "I've seen fire (medics) give it and see them wake up somebody who appears to be completely dead… it's like nothing happened, it's pretty amazing," Redmond said.

Redmond said Narcan is administered just like a nasal spray.   The officer simply affixes a vial to a needless syringe and spritzes the medication into the nostrils.

"I don't have any hesitation to use it," said Bike Officer Matt Didier, "A couple years ago my partner and I saw someone overdosing on bad heroin; it wasn't ‘til he was given the Narcan by fire that he was revived."

The Seattle Fire Department will still carry Narcan, but minutes make a difference when it comes to reversing an overdose.  Police officers often arrive often first because they're widely deployed throughout high drug areas of the city.

"The goal is to help save these people so if I am able to get to them first and I have it (Narcan) with me, great," said Officer Brian Rees.  He knows there are some people who feel heroin addicts cause their own suffering, but "to just write these people off and say you did this to yourself is sad.  Their life is just as important.  If we can prevent that overdose death and hook them up with some kind of service to get their life turned around, that's great," he said.

Rees said after being revived, the heroin user is sent to a hospital and efforts are made to connect them with social services and treatment.

Penny Legate found her daughter several hours after her overdose—way too late to use Narcan, even if she'd had it.  But Legate believes it's not too late for Marah's death to make a difference—the best present she can think of on what would have been her 23rd birthday.

"I think she would be, I think she is, thrilled," said Legate, holding the teddy bear she gave to Marah one Christmas. 

In addition to buying the Narcan kits for police, the Marah Project donated $25,000, which was matched by the Seattle Police Department, to the University of Washington, which will be measuring the results of the police department's pilot project.  It's the first such research partnership of its kind in the country.

Legate hopes to eventually see every officer in the Seattle Police Department equipped with Narcan.  Each dose costs approximately $30.

"It's a medicine that's readily available and easy to administer.  It's a matter of shooting it into the nose like a nasal spray and they're revived.  You saved their life.  It's like such a no brainer to me," Legate said.

Her only regret is that she didn't get the project going sooner.  

"It's like, come on, let's get going, we're behind schedule here!" 


The Marah Project

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