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Rock Against Heroin festival raises drug awareness

Sunday, September 11, 2016

By Bob Jackson

news@vindy.com

AUSTINTOWN

Horrific headlines about widespread heroin use have become all too common.

But mercifully, not all those stories end in tragedy.

For some, like Zach and Kandi Bokros, there is victory and hope.

Their paths to addiction mirror so many others that led to despair and death. It was death, in fact, that was the tipping point for both of them to finally get sober.

“He overdosed and died right in front of me,” Kandi said, rubbing her husband’s arm. “That was a nightmare. I never want to see that happen again.”

Zach and Kandi were among the dozens of people who turned out Saturday evening for the Rock Against Heroin event at California Palms Hotel and entertainment complex in Austintown. Kandi, 26, was one of the speakers later that evening, sharing her story with attendees.

John Batcho, a former local radio personality, served as emcee for the event.

A drug-user since she was 16, Kandi was able to keep it hidden from her family, and even her employer.

“I went to work every day. I was a pharmacy technician and using drugs myself, and nobody knew,” she said. “I hid it very well. I was a true closet addict.”

Like so many others, she started out by smoking marijuana, then experimenting with other drugs.

“The funner the drug, the more I’d do it,” she said with unabashed honesty.

The experimentation ultimately led to heroin use, which she kept secret from her mom, Sandi Homa. Kandi had managed to get off drugs and was sober for more than two years, but relapsed after her stepfather, with whom she was very close, died of cancer.

“There were other issues in her life, but that was the major, major over-the-edge point,” said Homa, wiping tears from her eyes. “That was when I found out she was an addict.”

Zach’s story was different. He was into sports, playing football and basketball at Brookfield High School.

“I was always an athlete,” he said. “That was my whole identity.”

But when he was 16, he was in an automobile accident that resulted in a severe back injury. His doctor prescribed Vicodin for the pain. After a year, when the prescriptions were stopped, Zach realized he’d become addicted to the painkiller. So he looked elsewhere for the feeling that for so long had come in a prescription bottle. He turned to heroin.

About 18 months ago, he took too much. He overdosed and died in front of Kandi. He was revived and survived, but said that experience persuaded him to get off drugs, and stay off.

“The biggest thing was seeing how it affected [Kandi], what she had to go through,” said Zach, 23.

The couple has been clean and sober since then, and recently had a baby boy. They hope their stories will help inspire others to fight against addiction and, eventually win the battle.

All money raised by the three-day rock festival, which started Friday, will go to help pay for off-site housing for recovering addicts. The event committee has partnered with First Step Recovery of Warren.

Jackie Thomas, one of the committee members, said it costs about $450 a month to keep someone in a recovery house. As of early Saturday evening, enough money had been raised to cover four months, she said.

“But people are still coming in, and we’re still getting donations from the community,” she said.

Thomas and Homa said they plan to have the music festival again next year.

“We want to get the message out to people that they are not alone in this fight,” Homa said. “There is help out there.