Marcus Ratz is graduating from Massabesic High School in Waterboro as a top student, completing nine Advanced Placement courses, six of them during his senior year: calculus, chemistry, biology, physics, psychology and English.

Ratz also put in more than 300 hours of community service as a member of the National Honor Society and executive officer of the Navy Junior ROTC program. He was captain of the math team and a member of the Science Olympiad team that won a medal this year.

And Ratz did much of this after his father, Marc Reed, died of a heroin overdose during his junior year. The tragic event in March 2018 spurred Ratz to speak out about the opioid crisis that has gripped Maine and the nation. This April, Ratz won the student speech contest at the state Lions Club convention for his recollections of his father and thoughts on how to fight addiction.

“I knew about his addiction for some time,” Ratz said in his speech. “Used syringes and burnt spoons littered the counters of his house. It was a lot more real when he was sobbing in my arms, admitting to me that he was a heroin addict.”

His father had mental health issues and developed an opioid addiction that led him to use heroin, Ratz said. At first Ratz didn’t believe his mother when she told him that his father had died. He hadn’t seen his father since he visited at Christmas.

“But eventually I realized she was telling me the truth,” Ratz said. “He had been in jail the month before and he got out and used right away, and he wasn’t used to it.”

Ratz said people struggling with addiction deserve understanding and support rather than judgment and scorn. And for those who haven’t been able to quit despite repeated stints in rehab, Ratz said communities should open safe injection sites to help reduce overdoses until they are ready to quit.

Ratz plans to study biochemistry at the University of Maine and move on to medical school to specialize in anesthesiology or general surgery. As for his ability to focus on his studies after losing his father, Ratz said he has always been able to buckle down in difficult circumstances. His mother, Jana Ratz, also provided tremendous support and encouragement.

“She’s definitely one of the best mothers ever,” Ratz said. “It’s definitely been the hardest year. I just kept my nose to the grindstone and kept thinking, ‘This is going to make college so much easier.’ ”

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