‘Don’t Worry, I Got This’

Ashley Riihiluoma, Jesse Martin and Tracy Martin listen to the 911 recording of when their brother Casey (pictured) passed away in October of 2018 from a drug overdose. Members of the Martin family gave a presentation to Virginia High School students Tuesday talking about the stuggles with drugs Casey suffered and how his passing effected the family.

VIRGINIA — “Casey Dean Martin, 24, of Virginia, passed away unexpectedly, Monday, October 1, 2018 at his residence,” so began the obituary that ran in the Mesabi Daily News.

What the obituary did not say was the reason behind Martin’s death — an overdose on heroin. Struggling with opiod addiction, Martin lost his life.

“Casey’s hope would be that if telling his story would help change even just one life then it was worth it,” said his mother, Lisa Neari.

“This is the story of my son, Casey. His siblings are telling his story,” said Willy Martin. He was surrounded by extended family members who had gathered in the balcony of the Goodman Auditorium on Tuesday to watch the presentation that was given to Virginia youth on the dangers of addiction. “The reason I am here is to listen to the story and hope that my kids can save other peoples’ kids’ lives. I am here to support my kids and those families.”

The Martin family gathered in the balcony as three of Martin’s siblings, along with Virginia Deputy Police Chief Chad Nickila, presented the story of Casey Martin to the Virginia students.

Casey’s siblings, Tracy Martin, Jesse Martin and Ashley Riihiluoma brought Casey to life for those in attendance. They told stories, read some of Casey’s writing and shed a few tears — all in hopes of informing and persuading the youth who filled the auditorium to reach out for help and fight the opioid epidemic.

“When I first met Casey I thought he was a smarta**,” said Nickila beginning the presentation. “Everytime I would talk to a friend of his he would turn into a sidewalk lawyer.”

Over the years Nickila got to know Martin, from afternoons in alleys by the high school to later years when hearing about Martin’s struggle with addiction, Nickila took the time to say hi to Martin and catch up.

“I was working October 1st when the call came in that Casey had overdosed and didn’t make it,” said Nickila passing the microphone to Martin’s siblings. “I hope you take what the family has to say to heart.”

A story of addiction

“I’m nervous,” said Tracy Martin taking the microphone. “I’ve done a lot of speaking engagements but I normally introduce myself as an addict. I have been clean and sober for over three years.”

He went on to talk about how the brothers grew up using drugs together. After Casey’s death, Tracy found a list of affirmations in his gym bag.

“These are things that sometimes he had to convince himself were true,” he said after reading off good son, brother, father, etc. “Other times he knew they were true.”

Tracy talked about how they didn’t grow up thinking they would be addicts, slumped on a bathroom floor with a needle in their arms — but they were.

Going to school, they put up a facade, like they knew exactly what they wanted out of life. But in reality, they didn’t.

“You don’t need to do that,” Tracy said, speaking to audience members who could relate. “You don’t need to end up like me or my brother. You can stop now … Life doesn’t have to stay the same. Ask for help.”

Projected was a selfie Casey had taken of himself which read “It’s not enough to just feel the flames you gotta burn your old self away!”

Martin’s siblings Jesse Martin and Ashley Riihiluoma built on the image Tracy started. Jesse talked about how they grew up, so close in age that they were in the same grade. While Ashley talked of the man he had become.

Martin was fit. He was frequently at the gym and ran marathons. He was a father.

Now, 3-year-old Liam and older brother Robert will grow up without their father.

“He didn’t get it,” explained Neari of her grandson at his father’s funeral. “Liam just walked around saying ‘Dada, dada.’ It was heartbreaking.”

“Programs like today’s are vital in combating the opioid epidemic,” said school resource officer Jessie Holecek, after the presentation. “By making youth aware of the dangers of drugs and alcohol abuse we can help prepare them to make safe and healthy choices in their future. This helps avoid other families from dealing with thee devastating consequences.”

Sitting a respectful distance from the Martin family in the balcony were two social workers for St. Louis County. Jana Blomberg is the public health educator and Stephany Medina is the opioid prevention specialist.

“We are here to support the effort to talk about recovery,” Medina said. Blomberg added, “and support and acknowledge the loss of the Martin family. The opioid epidemic is real. It is in our community. It is in our home.”

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, reach out to area resources such as your local police department or Range Mental Health at 218-749-3806. Their crisis line is 218-288-2100.

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