“I’m just an advocate by nature,” the 56-year-old said. “I can’t sprinkle magic fairy dust over my son, but I can sure understand the truth of what goes on out there.” She said her son Daniel’s spiral into heroin addiction, and eventually a 15-year prison sentence, may have an unexpected catalyst.
“He got his wisdom teeth pulled,” she said, “and had been given a bottle of Percocets.” Unbeknownst to his mother, Daniel was misusing the medication. He would soon drop out of high school and move to North Carolina. In Nov. 2011, Daniel was arrested after an incident at a Georgia Tech party. By Feb. 2012, he had started using heroin.
Awaiting trial, her son used the drug heavily. At one point, he even experienced an overdose.
“We think we can fix our kids, because we were always able to,” she said. “When they’re an addict, especially with something as powerful as an opiate, you can’t fix that.”
Halloween 2012, Daniel was found guilty of armed robbery. He was given the state’s mandatory minimum sentence, 10 years, with an additional five years tacked on.
“It’s one of the worst nightmares of my life,” she recollected. “I was a disaster – I would cry all night, I would drink so I could go to sleep. I just couldn’t function.” Several months later, Boccia said she “came to.”
Looking at north Fulton, she said she saw area youths gripped in a prescription drug epidemic. She said she’s connected with roughly 500 families who have been impacted by opiate abuse.
“They have ‘Skittles parties,’” she said. “The kids take whatever pills they happen to have … they put them in a fish bowl and they just pop whatever.”
Boccia founded an organization called HOPE — Helping to Open People’s Eyes.
The first goal of HOPE, she said, was to raise awareness of teen and young adult substance abuse. The second goal was to bring about legislative changes, primarily regarding mandatory minimums and decriminalization of certain drug offenses.
As part of the Power of Peace Project, Boccia also helped implement a teen-driven program called Hope is the New Dope. The initiative, she said, seeks to educate not only youths, but all community stakeholders about the dangers of opiate abuse.
The Fulton County school board, Boccia said, is well aware of the uptick in teen opiate use. She praised the board for seeking out “progressive” solutions to the issue.
“We have to get those opiates out of the classroom,” she said. “Nobody can stop it unless we say as a community ‘there’s help.’”