Chantilly resident Donna Lannes said she never saw any signs that would lead her to believe her teenage daughter was at risk of drug abuse.
An honors student, a volunteer and an athlete, former Westfield High student Alicia Lannes wanted to be an advocate for others, especially women in need.
Her aspiration stemmed from being raped at age 14, which resulted in her suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and severe anxiety. Although she received therapy, Alicia’s parents said her depression caused her to seek out means of self-medication, eventually leading her to use heroin, given to her by her boyfriend.
On March 5, 2008, Alicia — a 2007 Westfield graduate — died at age 19 from a heroin overdose.
“I don’t know why some kids choose to use,” Donna Lannes said. Perhaps it’s just simply access to drugs or a moment of vulnerability,” which she said she believed led to Alicia using heroin.
And in the wake of their daughter’s death, the Lanneses are trying to alert other parents that their kids could make the same fatal choices.
“We really could be you,” Lannes told parents who attended a community outreach meeting Tuesday at Annandale High School.
The meeting focused on tips to parents to help them avoid what parents at Westfield High School faced just a few years ago.
Discussion was led by those who were affected by Alicia’s death and the aftermath of the Westfield heroin ring, which made headlines in 2008 after Alicia’s death. As many as 16 students were linked to the heroin use and distribution ring.
“[Alicia’s] death was the catalyst that caused Fairfax County law enforcement to put together a task force [to investigate drug use at Westfield],” said Alicia’s father, Greg Lannes. “These are kids from our county, good students… four students from this ring received huge penalties.”
Several of those sentenced in 2009 received between four and 20 years in prison.
Those affected by the heroin ring are trying to make some good from the situation. Parents have joined the group PROTECT Parents Reaching Out To Education Communities Together. PROTECT is a task force of the nonprofit Unified Prevention Coalition of Fairfax County, which is hosting a series of meetings this year to raise awareness and offer tips to high school communities throughout Fairfax.
“A group of parents who were all involved in that heroin ring were trying to figure out what they could do to get the word out to other parents,” said Jennifer Lewis-Cooper, a staff member of the Unified Prevention Coalition.
The parents began speaking at area meetings on drug use in 2009, she said. This year, PROTECT is holding more outreach meetings.
“Our goal is to continue working on these presentations. We’d like to have the whole county covered by our talks,” Lewis-Cooper said, adding that parents who attended the meetings said they would like to see presentations given during school assemblies.
Parents of Westfield students involved in the 2008 heroin ring said they want to prevent parents from experiencing what they went through.
“We didn’t think heroin existed anymore. Turns out, it’s pretty easy to get,” said Westfield parent Greg Richter, whose daughter received drug rehabilitation treatments in the wake of her heroin use.
“We felt all alone,” he said, adding, “There are resources here. Too often, parents feel that when their child gets involved with drugs then they’ve failed. You haven’t failed… If you don’t do anything about it, then you’ve failed.”
One resource open to parents are substance abuse prevention specialists based in schools, such as Julie Baidoo, who is based five days a week at Annandale High School. She said her door is open to parents and students who are looking for advice or help with substance abuse issues.
“There are a ton of us throughout the county,” she said. “If you think something is going on, then something is probably going on… investigate. You’re the parents and that’s your responsibility.”