By Ed Runyan
Joe Dragovich started life on Youngstown’s East Side “poor and on welfare.”
“Life’s tough. Nobody said it was going to be easy,” Dragovich told students Tuesday at Howland High School during a “Faces of Heroin” presentation.
Dragovich is former post commander for the Ohio State Highway Patrol who is now chief deputy for the Trumbull County Sheriff’s Office.
“Life’s about choices,” he said. “I ran around with a crowd that didn’t make the same choices that I did. I was always lucky enough, or I think I feared my mom enough not to do what they did,” he said. “They’d go one way. I’d go the other way.”
But Dragovich “never thought for a second I would be in the position I am now,” he said.
Through the highway patrol, he’s met presidents. And he’s been to places such as Hawaii, Ireland, Alaska and Italy. “I’m not saying this to brag. I’m saying I’m no better than any of you out there, and I’m saying if I can do it, you can.”
Dragovich told the students about his two sons.
“One went to Ohio State, graduated with a degree in engineering. We were thrilled. He started his career, got a job. That’s great. He had cancer. You know what my son said? He told me, ‘I’ve had a pretty good life. If this is the toughest thing I have to deal with, I’ll get through it.’ The chemo nearly killed him, but he fought through. So things can be tough.”
“There’s a whole world out there for you to see. And I can guarantee you this: You will not see it through the end of a needle, at the end of a bottle or through substance abuse.
“You want to get high? I’m telling you it works. Get high on life. Embrace everything that’s out there that is wonderful in this world waiting for you to grab it and live your dream.”
Two years ago, his brother, mother and father-in-law all died within about five months of each other.
“Life’s not easy, but I want you to dance at your children’s weddings. I want you to cry at your parents’ funerals and experience life without a substance. That’s what makes you stronger and that’s what makes you prepared to tackle whatever life throws at you.”
Part of the Faces of Heroin program over the past three years has been poster boards placed throughout the seating areas among the students. Each of the 10 poster boards contained photos and information about a Howland graduate who died from a drug overdose.
Speaker Doug Walker, 30, knew and hung out with all 10. “I’m very blessed to be here,” he said.
Walker has been sober since January 2014. He graduated in 2005 from Howland High School.
“I used heroin for quite some time,” he said, adding that addiction killed his daughter’s mother in February 2012.
“Four years ago, I was a lying, cheating thief,” he said. Four years ago, his family kicked him out, “and it’s the best thing they could have done,” he said. He spent his time in places such as a hospital and homeless shelter.
A friend took him to Cleveland to get help.
“From that day on, I had to change everything about me except my name. That’s a fact. I just got a power greater than myself. I trusted God. I helped others and my life today is great,” Walker said.