Motorists traveling Ky. 914 may have seen a new billboard across from the Lake Cumberland Flea Market, near the intersection with U.S. 27. The billboard was placed within the last few weeks, and it is a sobering reminder of what opioid addiction can take away from a family.
The billboard promotes Project DARIS, showing pictures of a young man in uniform. That young man, Daris Fent, was a 23-year-old former Marine who lost his life after a heroin and Fentanyl overdose.
His mother, Melissa Dye, has spent much of the time since his death trying to prevent as many tragedies and assist as many people addicted to drugs as she could.
Dye began Project DARIS (Drug Awareness Resources In Schools), with the intent of reaching students at an early age. As of today, she said her group has spoken to 90,000 children around Kentucky.
The billboard was another way to catch people’s attention and remind them there is help and hope, Dye said.
“I just wanted to continue to try to remind people that we need to be getting in the schools,” she said.
While many of those talks involve telling students the story of her son, Dye said that the program has branched out to bring in other speakers with other stories to tell.
“I’m bringing new people with me, people in recovery or people who have also lost children, and we’re really just pushing for mandated drug education in schools.”
She said one of the biggest advocates they have on board to assist with that goal is State Representative Robert Goforth.
“He’s very passionate about getting that into schools, because he has triplets, and the statistics tell us that one in four [people] will become addicted. He said that when he read that, it really hit home to him,” Dye said.
She said that seeing the finished billboard after it was placed was an emotional experience for her.
“I went to see it the first time for myself, and I was overwhelmed with happiness to see that it was finally up because I had worked on it for two years.
“And then I had to pull over because it really hit home that he was gone, and that I’m still living this nightmare. I try not to dwell on that too much, but you’d think after almost four years that the pain would not be so intense.”
The billboard shows a young Daris in both his Southwestern High School football gear and in his Marines uniform.
While in the Marines, Daris was prescribed OxyContin to help in getting over an injury. That unfortunately led to an addiction to opioids, leading to losing his position in the military and, ultimately, led to a life of using heroin, which was cheaper than buying pills.
Daris passed away in November 2015.
The message included on the billboard, next to Daris’s picture, is “I died… but you can live.”
Dye said that many people helped to get the billboard up, including C.V. Weddle, Jr., who donated the space so that the message will be displayed for around a year.
Scott Kennedy from New Horizon Graphics donated the graphic design of the billboard. Dye said there were others who donated money to the project, because it takes around $500 to create the sign and another $200 or so to put it up.
For those who are struggling, Dye said information on help and programs can be found through the Project DARIS Facebook page, or by reaching out to her or Elaine Eggers through ARMS of Hope. ARMS stands for Addiction Resources Mentoring and Support.
That organization also has a Facebook page, or can be contacted at their office in the old Pulaski County Courthouse at 606-485-4005.