Local family hopes to bring awareness to drug abuse after son's overdose

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By Amanda Manning

On December 1, 2017, Kelley Wirth received a phone call that she says is forever seared in her mind.

Her 22-year-old son, Mason Reppen, had died of a fentanyl overdose in Lexington.

Now, her family hopes to raise awareness about drug abuse in hopes of preventing other overdose deaths in Oldham County.

After Mason passed away, family and friends asked how they could help. In the midst of her family’s tragedy, Wirth created a fundraiser, in hopes of helping others someday.

“The GoFundMe was started so people had an outlet in order to donate to a cause with the intention of educating about drug awareness and helping students,” Wirth explained.

From there, Wirth and her daughter got involved with the Coalition for a Healthy Oldham County through the Oldham County Health Department. A new organization, Youth Linking Oldham County (YLOC,) was also created around that time in partnership with the coalition and Oldham County Schools.

The mission of YLOC is to “link Oldham County students and community stakeholders by promoting social norms in regards to substance abuse and sharing positive outlets to deal with academic, social stress and anxiety.”

Reppen’s younger sister also became part of YLOC as a middle school student and helped create the organization’s name.

“The YLOC right now is my choice of where to distribute the money simply because it brings it right back here to home, to our community,” she said. “It’s helping the children that we know and love, that we are around everyday.”

Reppen graduated from Oldham County High School in 2013. He was set to graduate from the University of Kentucky just weeks after he passed away. The University of Kentucky honored that and Reppen by allowing his mother and father to walk and accept his diploma last December.

“They made sure that they told us it was not a honorary degree, it was his full degree,” Wirth explained. “He had earned it and they were privileged to give it to us, so that he knew he had completed it.”

Wirth hopes to help Oldham County specifically, where Reppen and her other children grew up.

"It’s very hard for all of us because it’s a small community and this disease is attacking a small community,” Wirth said. “We need to treat this disease like we would treat any other disease whether it be cancer or diabetes. We need to help those people that have those addictions.”

In line with YLOC’s mission, she wants to change social norms. “We need to call on not just parents and teachers. We need to call on the kid's peers,” she said. “They would listen to their friends more than they’re going to listen to us.”

That is exactly what the YLOC organization has been doing. Members of YLOC plan to educate their classmates on the harms of underage drinking, e-cigarettes and other drugs. During the last week of school, they taught fifth graders the harms of these drugs in a special activity.

Wirth said others could be hiding it from their parents in fear of disappointing them. “If we keep it up this way, everybody’s going to be so good at hiding it, we’re just going to see death after death after death,” she said.

She has several ideas of where the money could go through YLOC – including funding programs, speaking to students about Reppen’s story and possibly creating a 501c3.

“That’s what Mason would have wanted,” she added. “Mason would want to help fellow students.”

His family wants to make sure they do just that in his honor.

“We want Mason’s life to make a difference. If we can help one family, one student or young adult, then that’s the important message,” Wirth said. “That’s the important part of this, is to be able to keep it from happening.”

Wirth said not a day goes by that they don’t talk about Reppen. “We just miss everything about him - his smile, his laugh, his choice to go from long hair to short hair, just his enormous love for life,” she said. “This is nothing that he ever dreamt would have happened.”

Seven people died of an overdose in Oldham County last year, according to a report recently released by the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy (ODCP).

Since the beginning of this year, Oldham County EMS and police have made 15 runs that were overdose or drug related, according to Oldham County Coroner David Pendleton.

Four people died in those cases, ranging from 23 years old to 57 years old.

Pendleton explained that the numbers are likely skewed for Oldham County. “Some of the cases that they respond on end up in Louisville,” Pendleton said. “If a person dies of an overdose in Louisville, it becomes a Jefferson County Coroner’s case.”

352 people died of an overdose in Jefferson County last year, according to the ODCP report.

Crestwood resident Clay Jennings is federally charged with fentanyl distribution that resulted in the overdose of Reppen. He pled guilty to the charge in a plea agreement June 27.

His sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 28 at 3 p.m. in Lexington. He faces a minimum of 20 years in prison.

To donate in honor of Reppen, click here.