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A Bismarck woman who turned her grief over the tragic death of two daughters into a crusade against drug use is making a difference in people's lives and was recently recognized for her efforts by a popcorn company celebrating 100 years in business.

Around two years ago, Darla Carey lost her 26-year-old daughter, Charly, to drugs and then — just five months later — buried another daughter, Anjel, who was battling mental illness and committed suicide because she said she couldn’t live without her sister.

“Charly’s estranged husband admitted to shooting her up with heroin and she ended up dead in an alley,” Carey said. “Nobody called us. It was all over the news. We had to sit at home and hear the TV reporters say there was no family around.”

After her daughter’s funeral, Carey and her husband, Eddie, went to the alley where Charly’s body was found to pull weeds and plant flowers.

“We were met by some people up there who told us how drugs were getting out of hand in the city and that it was picking up down here,” she recalled. “I’ve had groups in St. Louis say there’s not much hope for them up there, but there’s still hope for us here.”

Two years ago, Carey started the “SEMO anti-heroin group” Facebook page in an effort to support other parents who lost children to drugs and educate people on the terrible effects of drugs.

“We were helped by a St. Louis group,” she said. “They got me started. They told me different things to do, how to find resources and how to get people together. We’ve got a big book full of resources and we help drug abusers find places where they can get help. Sometimes it takes weeks and a bunch of phone calls to find a place, but we find them one somewhere — whether they have insurance or not.”

While some drug abusers are looking for an easy way out, Carey said the road to recovery is both long and difficult.

“It’s just not going to happen,” she said. “They’ve got to feel it to know not to go back to using drugs. They’ve got to keep working at it. It’s an uphill climb all the way for the rest of their lives.”

Carey said the road to recovery is also difficult for the abuser’s family members.

“They hurt the most because they don’t know what they can do for them,” she said. “They don’t know what to look for.”

Carey’s group also coordinates fun events to keep the community united, safe and drug free. Their events have included parades, setting up information booths at colleges, leading rallies, sponsoring softball tournaments and holding memorials.

Carey has even created a quilt with the names of people who have lost their life to drugs. It currently holds 950 names.

“And there’s more to come,” she said. “The youngest person on the quilt who died is 13. The oldest is 67.”

The group focuses its efforts on six counties: St. Francois, Ste. Genevieve, Madison, Iron, Washington and Jefferson.

“If we help one person, then we’ve made a difference,” she said. “There’s still a big stigma, but when it gets down to it, they know who to call when they need help.”

Carey said most of their referrals come from the group’s Facebook page and word of mouth.

“It’s a smaller community than you think,” she said.

Carey said she sees an equal amount of methamphetamine and heroin abuse in the area — but there’s something even more prevalent.

“Prescription drugs are the worst,” she said. “Above both meth and heroin. Some people are just predisposed to it.”

Carey pointed out that Missouri has one unfortunate distinction as a state.

“We don’t have the prescription drug monitoring program,” she said. “Missouri is the only state that doesn’t.”

Carey lays the blame squarely at the feet of Missouri Sen. Robert Schaaf, a physician, who has fought against the state’s participation in the drug monitoring program that seeks to keep prescription drug abusers from “doctor shopping” — going from doctor to doctor to obtain prescriptions for legal, but addictive, painkillers.

“Rep. Kevin Engler has been trying to get this prescription drug monitoring program in Missouri,” she said. “Sen. Schaaf seems to think that it infringes on people’s privacy rights.”

Carey said her organization’s goal is to get into schools to educate young people about the dangers of drug abuse, to see the drug monitoring program passed in Missouri and “to reach as many people as possible.”

All of this makes for quite a story, but it still doesn’t explain how a popcorn company — Jolly Time Pop Corn — found out about Carey and honored her for the efforts she’s made against drug abuse in St. Francois and neighboring counties.

“Our vice president and information specialist, Shanna Killion, entered my name into the '100 Kernels of Kindness' contest without me knowing it,” Carey said, laughing. “I’m excited, though, because it can do a lot of good.”

According to a Jolly Time Pop Corn representative, the 100 Kernels of Kindness contest was created as part of the centennial celebration of the company which is giving out 100 $1,000 grants to “everyday folks who ‘pop up’ and make a difference in their community.”

“We received 6,620 nominations, and it’s inspiring to see all the good popping up nationwide,” the spokesperson said. “After careful review, 100 winners were selected based on their unique and significant contributions to their communities.

“Darla — and all of Jolly Time’s Kernels of Kindness winners—are being featured in a special online gallery that can be viewed at: http://www.jollytime.com/family/kernels-of-kindness.”

Jolly Time President Garry Smith explained why his company came up with the idea of the Kernels of Kindness contest.

“There are so many people around the world that do such kind things for other people and get absolutely no notoriety or financial reward,” he said. “We’re a family company with family values and this just seemed the right way to celebrate our birthday.” 

Smith added words of appreciation for Carey and her work against drug abuse in southeast Missouri.

“Her story of losing a daughter to drugs and another to suicide is just so sad,” he said. “Now she’s on a campaign that keeps the memory of her daughters alive while she’s helping so many people who need to hear her anti-drug message. I've got to say that judging was an interesting process, but she was a pretty clear winner.”

Kevin Jenkins is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-518-3614 or kjenkins@dailyjournalonline.com

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