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Vigil to remember victims of drug overdose

On Oct. 24, the University of North Georgia will join schools and communities across the nation to host a vigil to remember the more than 30,000 Americans who die of drug overdoses each year and to bring attention to the issue of substance abuse. The issue has a personal note for many in the UNG community, as a student on the university's Oconee Campus died of an accidental drug overdose earlier this year.

The father of Trent Madison, a 22-year-old student from Acworth who died in February, will speak at the Narcotics Overdose Prevention and Education (NOPE) Vigil, set to begin at 8 p.m. on the Gen. Bill "Lipp" Livsey Drill Field on UNG's Dahlonega Campus. The community also is welcome to attend the free event, which is sponsored by Student Health Services and Student Counseling.

Nationally, nearly half of all college students binge drink, use illicit drugs or misuse prescription drugs, according to the Center for Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. Denise Suggs, one of a number of licensed professional counselors at UNG, hopes the NOPE Vigil brings attention to the problem.

"The NOPE vigil is being held to increase the awareness of the potential prevalence, impact, and consequences of alcohol/drug abuse. The speaker will focus on how the death of his son was both traumatic and preventable," Suggs said. "Through partnering with Student Health Services, Student Counseling is helping to make students aware of the free and confidential resources that are available to them should they need to address this issue personally or have questions about how to help a friend that may be struggling with the abuse of alcohol/drugs."

In the United States, drug overdose deaths are second only to car crashes for unintentional injury deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Trent Madison's father, Scotti Madison, spoke to those gathered at an April memorial on the Oconee Campus, candidly sharing his son's struggles with drugs and alcohol. He described his son as a handsome young man who never met a stranger and had made many friends in his short time at UNG, who loved life and loved making others laugh. Despite all of these winning attributes, Scotti Madison said, his son struggled with addiction.

Trent Madison had been taking classes at UNG's Oconee Campus since transferring there last summer. He was a business administration major and, based on his academic performance at the end of fall semester 2012, was invited to be a member of Phi Theta Kappa honor society.

Dr. Michelle Brown, assistant vice president of student affairs and dean of students for the Oconee Campus, said the Madison family hopes Trent's death serves as a warning to college students and their families.

"Trent's family strongly wanted our students to be aware of the perils of alcohol and prescription drug use, including the reality that death can be the result for some who are addicted," Brown said. "Any student who needs help with addictive behaviors — or wants to learn about how to help a friend or family member who needs help — will find those in Student Counseling to be a great resource." 

As part of the April memorial, Scotti Madison presented a check to the University of North Georgia Foundation - Gainesville, Inc. for $2,000 to fund four $500 scholarships to be awarded to students attending the memorial. A tree with a memorial marker donated by his classmates was planted on the front lawn of the campus in memory of Trent Madison.

The NOPE Task Force is a non-profit organization that was formed in Florida in 2004 to combat the illegal use of prescription drugs and narcotics and other abused substances.

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