A Madison County attorney, who along with his wife have turned their personal anguish at the suicide of their son into a mission to reach others before drugs carry them down the same path, will be the guest speaker at the graduation ceremony of the Eighth Judicial District Drug Court next month.

Andy Taggart, former chief of staff to the late Gov. Kirk Fordice, will speak to the 15 graduates and others advancing in the Drug Court on May 8 at 2 p.m.

The graduation will be in the Pine Grove Pentecostal Church in Walnut Grove.

The Eighth Judicial District Drug Court currently has over 170 participants.

"These graduations represent a long, hard struggle to gain control of addictions, both drug and alcohol-related," Marcus D. Ellis Jr., Drug Court coordinator, said.

"They are the culmination of rehabilitation programs, extensive after-care programs, Narcotics and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, significant staff intervention via random and frequent drug testing and intensive judicial supervision."

An avid hunter and fisherman who was filled with sarcasm and boyish joy, the Taggart's son Brad never saw a swamp or marsh he didn't like, always had a game plan and was though of as a leader among his close friends. So the way in which Taggart died on Tuesday, July 10, 2012, by his own hand was evermore confounding to family and friends. He was 21.

Since their son's death, Andy Taggart and his wife Karen have spoken at churches, to high school groups and on college campuses.

Andy Taggart was guest speaker at the 17th Circuit Drug Court graduation in Hernando on Oct. 22. Forty-seven people graduated from that three-year program.

He told participants at that graduation that a toxicology report showed that his son had no drugs in his system when he died. But the letter Brad Taggart left for his parents laid out the devastating psychological toll of his addiction and summarized the downward spiral of the past year.

Taggart read the two-page suicide note to Drug Court participants that began, "I hate that I'm putting you through this. The last thing I want is to bring you all grief but I cannot go on living any longer. I've lost my mind due to drugs. I have no emotion, I cannot be happy ever and I'm empty inside. Drugs have robbed me of my memory and knowledge that I've gained. I have zero reading comprehension skills and my attention span is about 10 seconds. I spend the majority of the day staring off into space."

The letter outlined a progression from marijuana use to LSD, which Brad Taggart wrote of as "a way that I could escape into an alternate reality, one that was euphoric and free of problems.

"I also began using mushrooms, MDMA, cocaine and nitrous oxide. My drug use didn't seem to affect me. I actually felt as though I was improving as a person somehow. I knew myself better and was outgoing and it was nice. My view of reality was skewed by drugs.

"This was when I decided that school wasn't for me and I wanted to move out West."

He concluded the letter with, "I love you."

Ellis said the May 8 graduation and advancements are "positive proof that Drug Courts work.