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Students hear about drug use tragedy

Journal Opinion of Bradford, Vermont

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WOODSVILLE—Woodsville High School students had the opportunity on Sept. 22 to see a 23-minute documentary created by former math teacher Henry "Skip" Gates, who has taken his family's tragic personal story and used it to increase awareness about opiates prevalence among young people in New England.

The special two-hour presentation was attended by the entire student body and is part of the school's drug prevention program. Robert Veiga, a prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney's Office in Concord, introduced the film.

Veiga spoke to the students about the dangers of drug use and how easy some find themselves addicted to drugs. For some people, it only takes a single use to become addicted. Veiga also explained the legal ramifications of drug use and described his work at the New Hampshire U.S. attorney's office.

Veiga then introduced Skip Gates, who was a math teacher at Woodsville and at Blue Mountain Union in the 1980s. He left BMU in 1989 when his family relocated to Maine.

William Henry Philbrick Gates wasbornNov. 11, 1987 at Northeast Vermont Regional Hospital in St. Johnsbury. Obviously intelligent, Will talked at an early age. He went on to compete in skiing and motorcross in high school and college. Gates described his son as a high-energy risk taker.

At the University of Vermont, Will discovered opiates. In 2009, he was found dead in his dorm room from a heroin overdose.

After Will's death, Gates was approached to make a public service announcement about the experience. After that Gates was motivated to make a documentary film about his son's death.

Other former opiate users are interviewed in the film about how the drugs affected their lives. Most of them started using prescription drugs and then began using street heroin as a cheaper alternative. One of the users interviewed was the young man who sold heroin to Will Gates. That man is now serving 12 years in federal prison.

Sam Gates, Will Gates's brother, was also interviewed in the aftermath of losing his brother. Sam described his sadness, which was tangible on film.

After the screening of the film, WHS students asked Gates a number of questions including how he felt about the man who had sold his son heroin and how to help a friend or loved one who is dealing with drug use.

The stop at WHS was part of a tour Gates has taken throughout New England where he shows the film to various groups. He believes that sharing his story helps him cope with the grief of losing his son and hopes that his experience can help other families avoid the gut-wrenching pain of losing a loved one to drug use.

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Original Publication Date: October 8, 2014

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