By RONNIE ELLIS / CNHI News Service
FRANKFORT To most, Michael Donta and Sarah Shay are statistics, two among thousands who die from prescription drug overdoses each year.
To their parents, they were life, their dreams and the future and their absence leaves holes in their hearts that won’t be healed short of their own deaths.
“When a parent loses a child, it’s a long and emotional process,” said Mike Donta, formerly an Ashland resident who is now an employee of the Kentucky Cabinet of Labor. “It starts the day your child passes away and it ends when we as parents we join them.”
His son, Michael Donta of Ashland, was only 24 when he gave up his long fight with drug addiction and hanged himself. He had been in and out of treatment programs with his dad’s help, but each time, the elder Donta explained, his son relapsed.
Sarah Shay of Morehead was only 19 when she died from taking prescription painkillers at a party. Her friends dropped her off at emergency room — but it was too late. She, too, had seemed to have fought her way out of addiction after seeing her father die two years earlier. Her mother, Dr. Karen Shay, a dentist, had arranged counseling for Sarah and she’d enrolled at Morehead State University. She was an aspiring artist.
But one night in January 2006, she again took prescription drugs— and this time she didn’t wake up.
Her mother now travels the state — along with Mike Donta — talking to other school students about the dangers of prescription drug abuse. She gets nervous in front of a crowd, “but the passion in my heart for this problem is what keeps me going from one school to the next.”
She and Donta have spoken to more than 25,000 school kids since losing their children. They talk to them of their children — and the loss.
“She was truly a wonderful young lady,” Karen Shay says of her daughter. “I can tell you I was full of hurt that most people should never — and I pray that they never do have to feel that kind of hurt — but in doing and talking to the students, it gives me the courage to go to the next one and speak.
“It has turned my hurtful experience into one of wisdom and I am grateful for that opportunity,” Shay said.
Both were on hand Monday as Kentucky Attorney General announced two $1,500 scholarships — one for a female high school senior, one for a male senior — named in honor of Sarah Shay and Michael Donta, an idea conceived by Karen Shay.
The two scholarships are funded through private contributions from the Donta and Shay families and a gift from the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators. They are available to any Kentucky high school senior whose life has been impacted by prescription drug abuse, either their own or that of someone in their family.
Scholarship applications and eligibility requirements are listed on the website (www.ag.ky.gov/rxabuse <http://www.ag.ky.gov/rxabuse> ). Applications must be completed and submitted by Jan. 15, 2014 and winners will be announced by Conway’s office in May 2014.
Conway said Kentucky is making progress in the battle against prescription pain killer addiction, noting the passage of a “Pill Mill Bill” by the legislature has helped shut down half of the state’s pain management clinics and his office’s crackdown on the problem.
“For the first time, Kentucky is below the national average for prescription pain killer abuse,” Conway said.
He and the others are investigating how they might legally establish a foundation to continue the scholarships in future years.
Donta said he and Shay want to share their stories as “a light of hope to others” and they are honored to see their children’s memories carried on through the scholarships.
“Karen and I did not choose to have our children be the faces of drug abuse,” Donta said. “But we’ve been able to share our tragedies to encourage others to be aware of potential consequences.
“I laid my son to rest but not his memory,” Donta said. “There’s a difference.”
RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort <http://www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort> .
By RONNIE ELLIS / CNHI News Service
- State News
Panel moving slowly in sexual harassment probe
A special committee of state House lawmakers who are supposed to recommend action on charges against a former colleague met again Thursday — but it met behind closed doors only to tell reporters afterward its members decided “to move forward.”
Senate Democrat to run for judge-exec in Rowan
The Democratic minority in the Kentucky state Senate might get a bit slimmer as Sen. Walter “Doc” Blevins of Morehead Thursday filed to run for Rowan County Judge/Executive.
Republicans eye House takeover in ‘14
The 2014 U.S. Senate race for the seat now held by Republican Mitch McConnell may be the most important in the nation, but it might be the second-most important election inside the state.
Kentucky Power seeks to withdraw rate increase
Kentucky Power is asking the state Public Service Commission to withdraw its June request for a base rate increase to recover costs associated with its purchase of half interest in a West Virginia power plant.
Matt Bevin makes it official
Matt Bevin, the Louisville investment manager who’s trying to lead a Republican primary insurgency to topple incumbent U.S. Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, said Friday those seeking change in the Washington must change who they vote to send there.
Request for Big Sandy Plant rehearing denied
Kentucky’s Public Service Commission has rejected the attorney general’s request for a rehearing on its earlier decision to allow Kentucky Power Company to purchase half interest in a West Virginia power plant.
Governor’s son running for attorney general in 2015
Following months of speculation as he attended political events around the state to shake hands and meet potential supporters, Andy Beshear, son of Gov. Steve Beshear, announced Thursday he will run for attorney general in 2015.
McConnell, Grimes volley over coal issues
When they aren’t arguing about the new healthcare law or where the other raises money, likely foes in next year’s U.S. Senate race, incumbent Republican Mitch McConnell and Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, argue over who is the biggest supporter of the coal industry.
McConnell calls Obamacare ‘monstrosity’
Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell on Tuesday called the Affordable Care Act — or Obamacare — “a monstrosity,” demanding its full repeal during a press conference he called specifically to talk about the law.
Federal court lets latest legislative maps stand
A three-year battle over how to draw new state legislative lines has apparently come to a close as a three-judge federal panel issued its final order Thursday.
- More State News Headlines
- Panel moving slowly in sexual harassment probe