Jefferson City family rocked by son's death of heroin overdose

Wednesday, May 23, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 11:22 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, May 23, 2012

JEFFERSON CITY — Eight months ago, Jim Marshall was forced to perform CPR on his 20-year-old son in their Jefferson City home as he waited for an ambulance to arrive.

His son, Cody, was rushed to the emergency room at St. Mary's Health Center where his blood tested positive for heroin, Xanax and synthetic marijuana. Cody was put on life support and into an induced coma so his body could fight the drugs.

When the doctors took him out of the coma, they discovered that he didn’t have any blood flow to his brain stem.

Cody was essentially brain-dead, and his parents faced an unbearable decision — whether to keep their son on life support or not.

Jim had taught and coached in Jefferson City for 25 years. He had been a social studies teacher at Thomas Jefferson Middle School and a physical education teacher, track coach and cross-country coach at Jefferson City High School.

He was angry with himself: "Here I am thinking: I'm a 32-year educator, I've taught thousands of kids in this community and what a poor father I must be to have a son that has had this happen."

There was also anger toward his son.

"It's kind of like, 'We fought with you for a year on issues like this, and this is what you left us to deal with for the rest of our lives now?'"

Like many of the people in his son's life, Jim couldn't believe Cody had experimented with heroin, let alone overdosed on it. Friends agree. Cody was the last person they thought this would happen to, but the fact is that more people are using heroin, not only in the Jefferson City and Columbia area but throughout the state.

In 2008, heroin made up 4 percent of the Jefferson City Police Department’s total undercover workload. In 2010 it made up 30 percent.

According to the MUSTANG Drug Task Force, a special investigative unit targeting drug issues in Jefferson City, heroin has now surpassed all other drug investigations in mid-Missouri. This includes Columbia, where last year there were three times as many arrests related to heroin as in 2000.

Cody was a 2010 graduate of Jefferson City High School but had not achieved the grades or ACT scores needed to gain acceptance at a traditional university. His family decided he would spend one more year at home, working, then apply to a technical school once he showed a commitment to earning money.

He registered with a temporary employment agency and worked different factory jobs for several months at a time. Then Jim noticed that Cody seemed depressed about work and the absence of his friends, most of whom were in college away from Jefferson City.

Cody began experimenting with different pills and with marijuana. The employment agency he was working for required periodic drug tests, but he passed them, which made conversations about substance abuse harder for the Marshalls, who were beginning to notice red flags in their son's behavior.

Always a fairly passive kid, he was becoming increasingly confrontational. His parents noticed checkbooks periodically missing. Cody would ask for money late at night or on short notice, then act emotionally distraught if his parents denied him.

Jim and his wife, Merry, kept a close eye on Cody when he was at home. They greeted him and hugged him when he came into the house to see if anything seemed suspicious. They kept track of where he went when he walked out the door.

Cody, who loved to skateboard, was on the Columbia Skate Team. A typical day during his last summer consisted of about eight to 10 hours working at a factory job, two or three hours of sleep and another eight to 10 hours on a skateboard.

In August 2011, Jim noticed that Cody was increasingly depressed. He had just finished a temporary position at a Unilever factory and had a bit of free time until he picked up a new position at another factory.

In late September, Cody was taken to St. Mary's Health Center and spent 48 hours in an induced coma. It took nearly a day to get the results back from the brain scan that followed. On the third day, Sept. 27, his parents decided to remove life support.

That left them grappling with what happened and why. Jim’s background as an educator helped determine how he would cope with the loss of his son. He was also inspired by a decision his son made before he died.

Cody chose to be an organ donor and has already helped 50 people with his cartilage, skin tissue, bones and organs.

Jim decided to share his story with others who might be as unaware about heroin's sinister assault on Missouri as he was. Today, Jim talks to youth groups, schools and churches, and he speaks at town hall forums around the state about the heroin epidemic and how it impacted his life.

His home has become a place of refuge for people who come to console the family or to share their own experiences with heroin. Sadly, Jim said, about 90 percent of them are users between 19 and 21 years old or parents who have lost kids that age to heroin.

He calls it the invisible menace. Through advocacy, education and awareness, combating heroin will be his and Cody’s last project together.

Supervising editor is Jeanne Abbott.

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Lisa Marshall May 23, 2012 | 9:10 a.m.

Thank you Jim for sharing your story. I am very proud of you and I know that Cody is too.

(Report Comment)
Mary Kay Eisert Wlodarczyk June 21, 2012 | 9:00 p.m.

Jim, I am so sorry for your loss. We too lost our 20 year old son in March 2012. It is devastating. This is happening EVERYWHERE. And it is happening to good kids. Here is our story. I will keep your family in my prayers. My email is in the link below.

(Report Comment)

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