The first of three community forums to examine the problems of recreational drug use will be held Thursday at the high school where an exchange of dangerous drugs led to a 17-year-old girl's death.
Tara Fitzgerald was a junior at Woodbury High School when she bought the hallucinogenic drug 25i-NBOMe, which she thought was LSD, from a fellow student in January 2014. That sale took place at a nearby park, but the drug earlier had exchanged hands at the school.
Tara died at her home after ingesting the drug. Two 19-year-old men and three youth who were 17 at the time — two boys and a girl — were sentenced this past winter on felony counts relating to her death.
Her father, Tom Fitzgerald, will talk about his daughter's death at the 7 p.m. forum in the Woodbury High School auditorium, 2665 Woodlane Drive.
"This nightmare came out of nowhere for us," he said. "Many lives are also being destroyed and even ended due to the dangerous effects of heroin and prescription pills."
Forums will also be held April 2 at 7 p.m. at Park High School in Cottage Grove and April 9 at 7 p.m. at Tartan High School in Oakdale.
At all three forums, young adults from Washington County will share their personal stories of substance abuse and how it evolved into addiction.
"Communities cannot continue to stand by watching helplessly as dangerous drugs ravage their neighborhoods," said Adam Pederson, director of strategic partnerships at Minnesota Teen Challenge.
"In order to curb the violent trend of addiction, communities must unite and raise awareness to prevent addiction before it starts and address it where it already is."
Participants will include Washington County Sheriff Bill Hutton, County Attorney Pete Orput, local police and prevention professionals from Know the Truth, a substance abuse prevention program.
In the first quarter of 2014, six Washington County residents died of drug overdoses, Hutton said.
According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, more than 80 percent of people who have started using heroin in recent years started with prescription drugs.
Pederson said the community forums will help parents, teachers and youth leaders learn current methods of talking to their kids about drug use, spot warning signs and understand root causes of addiction.