A Conway couple who lost a son to a drug overdose in 2014 spoke to Faulkner County Juvenile Drug Court staff about the affects their son's death has had on their family.
Juvenile Judge Troy B. Braswell Jr. said the opportunity to hear impact statements such as this serves as a reminder to his team the importance of their work.
"The drug court team works hard. We often experience success," he said. "However, we also face very difficult situations. It was an honor to hear from Mr. and Mrs. [Kimberly and Ken] Ashley-Pauley to help remind us that we are fighting to protect our youth and give them opportunities to beat addiction and live a full life."
Joshua Ashely-Pauley was 20 years old when he died of an overdose in May 2014.
His mother, Kimberly, who is a research compliance officer at the University of Central Arkansas, said she never would have expected her son to die from an overdose.
The day he overdosed, she said she'd noticed he was acting differently.
Joshua worked alongside one of his siblings as a lifeguard at Hendrix College. On May 9, 2014, the day before Mother's Day, she stopped by the pool to visit her two sons at work.
Looking back, she said she now knows the way her son was acting that day was an indicator something was seriously wrong, but at the time, she thought he was just sick, noting he'd visited the Student Health Center at UCA and was treated for cold-like symptoms.
Joshua and other family members were planning a Mother's Day bash for Kimberly, without her knowledge. Kimberly said she had no idea that would be the last time she'd see Joshua alive, as he told her goodbye and that he'd see her the next day.
"He had an amazing smile," she said, recalling the way her son looked up at her on May 9, 2014. "He looked up at me and winked. He said, 'I'll see you tomorrow — it's Mother's Day.'"
However, the next time Kimberly and her husband saw Joshua was after receiving a call from Conway Regional Medical Center staff later that night.
"They said he was unresponsive and wasn't breathing," she said. "I didn't know what was going on."
Joshua and his father, Ken, had been texting back and forth all throughout the day getting ready for Kim's Mother's Day bash. Ken said his son stopped responding to his messages around 5:30 p.m. Conway Regional called Kimberly around 9 p.m.
Kimberly said she and Ken later learned their son's friend's checked on him twice after he said he wasn't feeling well. The third time, Joshua wasn't breathing anymore.
"No one called 911," Ken said.
A toxicology report later showed Joshua had taken Xanax, marijuana (believed to be laced with Phencyclidines, or PCP) and Promethazine with Codeine. He was pronounced dead on May 12, 2014.
It's taken time, but Ken said he has since forgiven his son's friends who were with him in the hours leading up to his hospital visit.
After searching through his son's phone, Ken said he also learned Joshua had mixed a Xanax pill and a Jolly Rancher in a bottle of Mountain Dew. As Ken began speaking Thursday, he placed an Aspirin in a bottle of water with a splash of Mountain Dew to show how quickly the pill absorbed into the liquid.
Two DEA agents also spoke to the 20th Judicial District Juvenile Drug Court staff on Thursday.
Tactical Diversion Squad Supervisor Tom Fischer and Special Agent Scott Cunningham warned the drug court staff of drug trends, stating heroin, fentanyl and prescription drugs, specifically antidepressants, are on the rise locally.
Fischer said the rise in prescription drug abuse is particularly alarming to him, especially the abuse of antidepressants.
While these drugs can serve an effective purpose, they can also prove to be fatal if abused.
These pills are particularly dangerous, because "one plus one does not equal two" when mixing these substances, Fischer said.
"One plus one might equal six, and that's because when you mix a Xanax with a Hydrocodone and you're taking an over-the-counter cold medication and might have a glass of wine or two, now we're talking about three or for Central Nervous System depressants all working together ... it's happening a lot. Alcohol and Xanax are rampant in what we're seeing, and these people are living on the edge taking [a mixture] of these two."
Fischer and Cunningham both spoke on the dangers and rise in heroin and fentanyl in central Arkansas.
"It's here; it's here in Conway," Fischer said of heroin and fentanyl. "It's disappointing to me because I have invested interest in this community ... I wish I could tell you it's going to get better, but it's going to get worse before it gets better. We're going to see more overdoses in Conway because we're seeing more overdoses in Little Rock. It's going to happen; it's just a matter of time. If we don't get some of these kids early when we find they've tested positive [for prescription pills], they're going to end up with heroin and they're going to end up dead."
Heroin is often mixed with fentanyl lately. Fentanyl is extremely dangerous, Fischer said, noting a fatal dose is only 2 mgs.
Cunningham said fentanyl is 40 times more potent than heroin itself.
During his presentation, Fischer also noted drug-related deaths are rising in numbers at alarming rates.
"Whoever would have thought [drug-related deaths] would ever be more than motor vehicle crashes and homicides [combined] in the United States of America," he said, noting that last year there were more than 63,000 drug-related deaths.
Having the opportunity to listen to Thursday's speakers was motivating to drug court staff, Braswell said.
"It is imperative that our drug court team participate in training that covers the latest trends and issues facing our youth. We cannot afford to be complacent," he said. "We are blessed to have DEA agents living in our community that serve on the front line to help us identify warning signs of drug use and the danger of certain narcotics ... Our team was energized and motivated by today's presentation."