Ronnie Powell was a standout football star at Souderton Area High School, and a well-liked and popular young man who was a skilled halfback.
Powell got his hands on the ball and scored touchdowns so often that his name was a staple of color commentary.
His parents, however, were mystified as to how his receiving gloves kept vanishing.
“We bought him receiving gloves every weekend,” his mother, Justina McIntyre, remembered, but they didn’t understand how he kept losing them after every game.
Finally, Powell’s sister saw him giving them away to the children that would surround him after Souderton games.
McIntyre knew that there were many young people who looked up to Powell and who admired him for his football skills. Those same skills got him noticed by colleges, too, and in 2007, Powell earned a full scholarship to Tennessee State University. In his freshman season, he played in his very first game at TSU—an honor for a freshman player—and had a 17-yard carry.
In the spring of his freshman year, though, Powell’s life took a downturn. He was redshirted at Tennessee State University, and then he lost his scholarship and had to come home to Souderton.
After Powell was stopped by police in April 2008, McIntyre tried to find out what was going on with her son, and he asked her “What if it’s prescription pills, Mom?”
That is how Justina McIntyre found out that her son had been abusing prescription drugs like OxyContin, Vicodin and Xanax for several years.
McIntyre presented the story of her son’s life and the dangers of prescription drug abuse Monday night at during a community forum.
McIntyre said that as her son began telling her what was wrong, she learned that he had started smoking marijuana and drinking at age 14, and when he was 15, an adult co-worker at the nursing home where he worked traded him six Vicodin pills for some marijuana.
After that, Powell started using prescription drugs recreationally, which led to addiction. McIntyre said that Powell was tested at home for marijuana use and he failed the test; she knows that there were signs of his addiction that she and her husband didn’t understand because they had no idea how to tell if someone was abusing prescription drugs.
“Ronnie thought, like many other people, that he could control it, and it would never get this bad,” said his mother.
They tried a rehabilitation program but Powell, at 19, was an adult, and after one night in the facility, he checked himself out. He told his mother that he “wasn’t like those people.”
A counselor at the rehab hospital told McIntyre that Powell was the first person the counselor had seen who could “do three 80s” of OxyContin. McIntyre didn’t know it at the time, but that doctor meant Powell was taking 240 milligrams of OxyContin at a time. (The strongest prescription a person can be given is 80 milligrams.)
Powell died in October 2008 from an OxyContin overdose, six months after his mother found out that he was abusing prescription drugs.
McIntyre has chosen to use what she knows now to help other young people and their parents to avoid going through the same tragedy that she has experienced. She wants young people to understand that every choice they make has a consequence.
In memory of her son, McIntyre has created the organization One Life One Chance, and she now tells her story to school and community groups around the area. She also relays many facts about prescription drug abuse.
McIntyre said that the ease of obtaining prescription drugs has contributed to their rise as an abused substance. Many people who take them buy them from others, steal them, or lie about pain to obtain the medication.
A parent of one of Powell’s friends went to multiple doctors and pharmacies to obtain OxyContin pills and then sold them. Powell told his mother that he “could go anywhere in Telford and get them (the pills) ... (he could) buy them on the street for $40.”
McIntyre encouraged youth to make smart decisions, to be honest with themselves and their parents, and to be sure they know which of their friends are truly their friends.
In the same vein, she encouraged parents to be vigilant where their kids are concerned.
“If there’s a particular house where everyone always goes,” she said, “make sure you know what is going on at that house.”
Ultimately, McIntyre said, getting high is a “selfish choice.” Teens who choose to get high are only thinking of that moment and not of the potential consequences.
She pointed out two sweatshirts draped on chairs on the podium. One was a gray Souderton football sweatshirt; the other, a black sweatshirt with Powell’s name and the dates of his birth and death. She said she wants young people to consider the consequences: “Which sweatshirt would you want your parents to wear?”
Powell has a daughter he never met—she was born four months after his death. Powell’s grandmother, Linda Knox, said that she is an absolute joy and that their family “sees Ronnie in her every day.”
His family knows that Powell's absence from his daughter’s life is a result of the choices he made, but through One Life One Chance, McIntyre is making sure that other people know her son's story, and she hopes this will help others avoid the same tragedy.