When Jeffrey Veatch went to speak to students and community members in Pleasantville, he knew they’d never meet his son Justin. Regardless, Veatch knows his late son’s story is worth telling.
Justin was a gifted musician whose life was cut short from a drug overdose. He was 17 years old.
Jeffrey Veatch, a Yorktown resident, spoke to both Pleasantville High School students and community members during a school assembly and then later on during a smaller presentation for families at the school’s library and media center last Thursday. Veatch preached the importance of students taking care of themselves and how to deal with adversity.
“You could hear a pin drop today and the amount of students that gathered around Jeff afterward was a real indication,” Principal Dawn Bartz said of the students’ receptiveness to the presentation. “…I think they took it well, very positively.”
During both 40-minute presentations, Veatch talked about how his son was like any high school student. He was involved in sports, skateboarding, did well in school and was a masterful musician who composed and performed his own music.
But Veatch said Justin also had a drug problem. It started with marijuana and eventually escalated to heroin. Although Justin was sent to a drug rehabilitation center in Pennsylvania for a month, he couldn’t avoid abusing his body.
On Sept. 8, 2008, he died in his sleep at home with Jeff and his wife just 10 feet away in their bedroom.
“What happened to Justin from age 13 to age 17 can happen to anyone,” Veatch said.
He reviewed warning signs parents can look for from teenagers who may be abusing drugs. Some of those indicators include sleeping disorders, decreased concentration, a lack of motivation, depression and physical pain.
Veatch encouraged students to have a safety net of adults they can turn to in case of crisis. He also recommended teenagers seek out adults if they believe a friend is in trouble with drugs, no matter how tough that might be.
“One of the things I really want the kids to do is understand they can make a difference,” Veatch said. “They can make a difference by talking to their friends, by watching what they do, and if the occasion arises that they need to do something, that they can call somebody for help.”
One parent, Pleasantville resident Lori Stockel, attended the evening session and said she would talk with her two high school-age children over the weekend, Veatch’s presentation and avoiding drug use in general. She said it’s crucial for the community to be united in combating drug use.
“I think the statistics are showing how much it’s growing over time and here in Pleasantville we just maybe don’t hear about it as much,” Stockel said. “But I think it’s here and we’re just not having the conversation.”