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Losing Laura: the new face of drug overdose

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It's a startling fact: drug overdoses now kill more Americans than auto accidents.

In 2010, according to the most recent numbers available, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says more than 38,000 Americans died from a drug overdose.

That's what happened to North Atlanta High School senior Laura Hope Laws Thanksgiving weekend.

Friends describe her as smart, charismatic, deeply spiritual, and a girl who lived a wide-open life.

But her parents say she made a mistake, and paid for it with her life.

In a quiet courtyard of Peachtree Christian Church, Laura Hope Laws' parents Jyll and Dave touch the place their daughter now rests. Struggling to understand how a girl so full of life can just slip away. Jyll says, "At school, Laura Hope was the kid that, "Oh, gosh, here comes Laura Hope! " She'd run down the hall and just grab you and hold you. Everybody loved Laura."

The Laws aren't sure where or when Laura got off track. She broke her jaw in playing soccer her freshman year.

Maybe, they think, the painkillers she took then began a two year tug-of-war, first with prescription drugs, eventually, with heroin.

Laura's dad David Laws, says "She'd talked to me once about, tearfully, "I'm so sorry that you have a daughter that is like this." I said, "It doesn't matter. You are our daughter. I love you. We love you."

Laura - like a lot of teenagers - was complicated. She lived for church mission trips, but then would disappear for days.

But she was always willing to get help, going to a 30 day inpatient drug rehab, trying intensive outpatient programs twice, and joining a 12-step recovery program,

But, the Laws say, the smallest things: a text, a Tweet, a Facebook post, would trigger a relapse.

Last Fall, Jyll Pickett Laws says, "Laura played in the powder puff football game, made the touchdowns, did really good. Everybody was so happy to see Laura back on the field! And then three days later she relapsed."

The Wednesday before Thanksgiving, November 27, 2013, the Laws had travel plans. David says, "The weekend started like a lot of other weekends: "Where is Laura?" Nodding, Jyll says, "She called us and said she was coming home and she didn't come home, and she didn't come home."

Finally, with no Laura, David and their youngest daughter left for Florida, and Jyll caught a planned flight to Montana to see their son. Jyll says, "When I got on the plane, I texted, and texted, and texted and couldn't get an answer from her." When she landed in Salt Lake City, Jyll says she plugged in her phone, "And the DeKalb County coroner called me to tell me my daughter had been deceased."

Laura was 17 and a half.

The initial toxicology report shows she died of an accidental drug overdose of a combination of cocaine, oxycodone, morphine and another drug.

Heroin wasn't in the mix this time - but it, too, is an opiate, in the family of the drugs found in her system.

And if you're thinking Laura Laws doesn't look the part, addiction is changing.

Across the country, a crackdown on prescription "pill mills" is making opiates like oxycodone much harder to find.

That is pushing addicts back towards heroin, which is now stronger, easier to get, and more lethal than ever before.

David Laws says, "It (heroin) is less expensive than the pills, and you don't need to get a prescription. You don't need to raid your parents medicine cabinet. But it's deadly. And that's the real reason that we're willing to be here in the kitchen talking with you."

It's been three months, since close to 900 people crowded into Peachtree Christian for Laura Hope Laws' memorial service. Remembering a life that was just beginning. Laura's mom believes, "This is what Laura would want, she would want her friends to know, "Don't do what I did."

The Laws have created a Facebook page for Laura, https://www.facebook.com/liveforlaws. Her friends started #liveforlaws to encourage young people who are struggling, and share Laura's story.

The family is also advocating for a new "Good Samaritan" law supported byhttp://www.georgiaoverdoseprevention.org .

The proposed Georgia 911 Medical Amnesty Law would protect people from prosecution if they call 911 or seek medical assistance for someone who has overdosed. 27 states either have or are considering a "Good Samaritan" law for accidental overdoses.

If you're struggling with addiction, or know someone who is, Narcotics Anonymous has support programs across metro Atlanta. You can find a meeting in your area at http://www.na.org.

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