Addiction & Michiana’s Youngest Victims – Part 3

Published: Nov. 4, 2021 at 5:59 PM EDT|Updated: Nov. 4, 2021 at 6:42 PM EDT
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(WNDU) - Addiction is more complex than we may think. What starts as, “it’s just going to be one time” quickly and unexpectedly turns into a constant inner battle that ultimately affects everyone around us. Is there a way to stop it?

16 News Now’s Christine Karsten sat down with two individuals who say they are going to try. One is a former addict and the other is a teen who is now growing up without his father.

“He was going to do his one last time and he went up and sat on this tree and it had fentanyl in it, and it was way more than he thought, and he overdosed,” says 14-year-old Gabriel Szczechowski.

Szczechowski says his dad, Brandon, had been in and out of prison his whole life, but it was four years ago when he finally realized he was struggling with something.

“I didn’t really understand much at the time. I just knew, oh no that’s bad and how long is he going to be gone for?” says Szczechowski.

Brandon was struggling with sobriety and the tug-of-war between using and getting clean. It was that struggle that brought him to a vacant lot in South Bend.

“I don’t know, I can’t say. Maybe just the withdrawal because he was still going through that and maybe just that one last time before I stop,” explains Szczechowski.

Brandon was supposed to check into rehab three hours later. This time it was supposed to work. He never made it.

“Our overdose numbers are increasing at rapid rates,” says Alicia Wells. Wells is the Co-Founder and Executive Director for Recover Michiana Fest. She is also the Community Outreach Coordinator for Allendale Treatment.

Wells knows the dangers firsthand. Her sobriety is the motivation to help others with addiction treatment and recovery. She calls the drug use in Michiana an epidemic.

“We are very much in an epidemic, and we are getting ready to enter a larger epidemic with the fentanyl that we are seeing,” continues Wells. “Substance abuse doesn’t discriminate. Many people of all walks of life are using substances to cope with mental health issues, mental health crises, just daily life. We are seeing the drugs being used from as young as 5th grade all the way up into geriatric years.”

She says now is the time to speak out as a community, saying enough is enough.

“This is not a case of being a snitch. If you see something, say something. These are our children. They need to be protected. There was no joke when they say it takes a village to raise a child. It takes a village to save children too. We need to be more responsible, and we need to be more transparent in the things we are seeing and not afraid of what other people are going to think because it is not about that.”

It’s about saving lives and Recover Michiana is now offering something that no one in our area has offered before. They are offering scholarships for kids, like Gabe, who have lost parents to an overdose to go to college or trade school. The goal is to help break the cycle.

“It is something new, its innovated, it’s a different approach and in our community that is what we are all about. People have been talking the talk and wanting to do things for a long time and it’s taking new innovative approaches to creating and combating this substance abuse disorder and this epidemic that we have.”

Less than two months after the death of his father, Gabe is doing his part to speak out and educating others. Just a couple weeks ago he told his story at a fundraiser for David’s Courage. A couple days after that, he stood in front of his peers to talk about drugs and overdoses.

“Even my teacher said you know; you don’t have to do this if you don’t want to. I know that is hard to say so soon. But you know, I would rather give all the students the information that I want to give them,” says Szczechowski. “That they might not have the same fate my dad did. That none of them even try it.”

“What we are dealing with is not going to go away without action. We all have to work together for this. This can’t be something that you think doesn’t affect you. It may not affect you yet. It is affecting our neighbors, our friends our church members, our co-workers and it is all of our responsibility to stay educated on what is happening and not be afraid of what we are hearing but rise up to do something different and not be afraid to know what resources to give. It may not be you, but it may be someone you love someday,” says Wells.

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, please call Wells at 574-413-8778. This is not a tip line. If you are seeing drug activity in your area, please call your local police department. You can also remain anonymous by calling Michiana Crime Stoppers at 574-288-STOP or 800-342-STOP.

Learn more about Recover Michiana Fest here:

Here is a direct link to the scholarship application:

Learn more about Michiana Crime Stoppers:

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