FRANKFORT, Ky. (WSAZ) -- A new scholarship program has been announced in memory of two young overdose victims in eastern Kentucky.
Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway, along with Prosecutors Advisory Council (PAC), the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators (NADDI) and the parents of two young overdose victims, announced Monday that two $1500 scholarships will be offered this school year to graduating high school students whose lives have been impacted by prescription drug abuse.
The scholarships are in memory of 19-year-old Sarah Shay and 24-year-old Michael Donta. Shay, of Morehead, Ky., who died of a prescription drug overdose in 2006. Donta, of Ashland, Ky., lost his battle with prescription painkiller abuse in 2010.
Sarah and Michael's parents, Dr. Karen Shay and Mike Donta, now travel with General Conway across the state as part of his Keep Kentucky Kids Safe initiative to warn middle and high school students about the dangers of prescription drug abuse.
"I am humbled and honored that these organizations have chosen to remember my son through this scholarship," Donta said. "Students, who have been affected by the disease of addiction, in whatever form they have faced it, deserve a second chance. This may just be the opportunity they need to make them realize that there is always hope and they can never give up."
The Sarah Shay and Michael Donta Memorial Scholarships were created this year to help Kentucky students who have excelled in their personal and academic lives despite seeing firsthand the devastating consequences of prescription drug abuse. These students have embraced a positive lifestyle and brighter future for themselves and their families.
One "Sarah Shay Memorial Scholarship" and one "Michael Donta Memorial Scholarship" will be awarded each year to a graduating high school female and male, who meet the scholarship criteria, to put toward post secondary education expenses. In addition to receiving funding from NADDI, the scholarships were made possible through donations from Michael and Sarah's families.
Completed scholarship applications must be submitted by January 15, 2014. Recipients will be announced by the Office of the Attorney General, in conjunction with PAC and NADDI, in May of 2014.
Check out the Featured Links section under the Life tab to check out the application and requirements.
In an online video, Ashland resident Mike Donta recounts his 24-year-old son's death due to prescription abuse.
Donta says his son Michael left behind a young son and a daughter he never got to see.
In another video, former Miss Kentucky Teen USA Jefra Bland says her father, a successful businessman, nearly lost everything due to his addiction to prescription drugs that began after back surgery.
The testimonials can be accessed by clicking on Attorney General Jack Conway's prescription drug abuse prevention webpage.
Conway says public awareness is crucial in the prescription abuse fight. In Kentucky, more people die from drug overdoses than car wrecks
The students ranged in age from 11 to 14, many who have already dealt in some way with prescription drug abuse.
"Overdose deaths have quadrupled in this area in the last four years. We're losing more young people to overdose deaths from prescription pills than we do in traffic accidents," Conway said.
Mike Donta has lived a parent’s worst nightmare
"I lost my son in July of 2010 to prescription drug abuse. He made bad choices. Choices have consequences and the choice he made to fall into the drug community was life changing to him," Donta said.
Michael Donta, a Boyd County native, was trying to fight his addiction, but the problem was stronger than he could bear.
Michael lost his life to prescription drug abuse at age 24.
"Finally, the ultimate choice happened with him to where he couldn't get away from it," Donta said.
Now Donta, has teamed up with Attorney General Conway to try and stop the problem before it starts.
"Now what we are seeing is the prescription pill problem is spreading across the state, but eastern Kentucky is where it started. Here in northeastern Kentucky area we're seeing a surge in the numbers that causes me great concern. It's one of the reasons I’m here," Conway said.
The concern gave Boyd County Middle School students information and a new place to turn for help.
"If I can save one parent from having the heartache that I've had over the last eight months, then I've done my job," Donta said.
Kentucky ranks second in the nation for teens ages 18 to 24 that recreationally use prescription drugs.
The first state is West Virginia.
April 30th Kentucky will hold a statewide prescription take back day.