Tragedy fuels father's fight against heroin - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Tragedy fuels father's fight against heroin

Jesse Dougher Jesse Dougher

Burlington, Vermont - June 29, 2010

Two brothers from Hudson Falls, N.Y., pled guilty to trafficking heroin in Vermont.

Jesse Dougher, 30, and his brother, Jordan, admitted they supplied heroin to dealers and sold directly to users in Burlington and West Pawlet from 2004 to 2009.

Federal authorities could not point to any specific numbers but say Vermont is seeing more heroin overdoses and more seizures of drug evidence than in recent years because heroin offers a similar high users get from abusing prescription painkillers at a lower price.

"It had an uptick in 2001, 2002, and 2003 here in Vermont-- it went down for a little while, and we're seeing a resurgence," said Tris Coffin, the U.S. Attorney for Vermont.

Jordan and Jesse Dougher will be sentenced in October.

Those brothers sold the heroin that led to the death of a University of Vermont junior last year. Now his family is hoping to turn its grief into action.

Will Gates was 21 years old and doing well in his science classes at UVM when he tried heroin. It was a high that killed him, and now his dad hopes no other father goes through the same anguish.

"He was absolutely the last kid in the world you'd think would try heroin," said Skip Gates, Will's father.

Skip Gates calls his son Will a tremendous skier, student, and good friend, but the 21-year-old from Skowhegan, Maine, made the tremendously risky choice to snort heroin. Skip Gates got the call in March 2009 that the drug killed his child.

"I miss him with every breath I take, and will for the rest of my life," he said.

Now the father hopes his pain can prevent another young person from picking up heroin. He appears in a public service announcement produced with help from Vermont's U.S. Attorney's office.

"I think there's a tendency in society to think if you're 21 or 22, nothing bad can happen to you, and that's absolutely not the case," Skip Gates said.

Will Gates was studying genetics at the University of Vermont. UVM counselors and clinicians will use the story of this extreme skier to reach students who may not relate to older drug messages like 'Just Say No.'

"It makes an impact, frankly, that we don't make as adults saying 'this is dangerous,' or literature that's on a table doesn't offer in terms of what students may gain as insight," said Dr. Jon Porter, the director of the UVM Center for Health & Well-being.

"And hopefully get a hook into them to understand that whether it's heroin or Oxycontin or another drug, drugs destroy your life," Burlington Police Chief Mike Schirling said.

The PSA should start airing on Vermont TV stations and websites later this summer. Skip Gates wants kids who see it to be reminded -- they are not immortal.

"I just hope if someone listens to this, they realize they're just a step away from the same fate," he said.

Police and prosecutors at the unveiling of the PSA Tuesday said enforcement is only part of combating heroin. Treatment is important -- and so is education. That's what Skip Gates says he'll be focusing on as the legacy of his son.

Jack Thurston - WCAX News

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