It’s the club no parent should ever be a part of. But if someone loses a child or loved one to opioid overdose, this club will welcome anyone who needs support.
“We’ll let you know what our experience is,” said Avi Israel, who lost his son Michael in 2011 and has since become well known for his advocacy.
This group regularly meets behind closed doors in a board room at a Horizon Health facility. They wait until the evening, after most Horizon Health staff have left for the day after serving patients, many of whom are tackling an opioid disorder.
Here, they help each other come to terms with what happened to their children.
“We thought we were starting to succeed. We were mistaken. We just didn’t realize how bad the addiction was,” David Bull told the group. Bull’s son Jeffery overdosed in his bedroom in September 2015. He had a decade-long battle with addiction, after a car accident in 2004.
Bull’s peers know exactly how he feels.
“I thought that it was a choice. I know now that it’s not a choice,” Lee Gath said. Her son Ryan was on Vivitral after doctors said his brain was chemically altered. Gath said insurance wouldn’t cover the drug, so Ryan started looking to the street for cheaper alternatives.
“He probably thought that he could do it on his own. That lack of education, of what he knew and what we knew at the time. And now, here we all sit, with broken hearts.”
These parents want people to know that their children were not failures; rather, they were failures of the system. They were successful people with children and fulfilling careers who were led down a dark path.
According to the VP-Operations at Horizon Health, 46% of the people they see in Horizon programs are being treated for an opiate use disorder. That’s around 1,200 individuals.
In Western New York, there was a 25 percent increase in fatal overdoses from 2014 to 2015.
“I would say in the last two years it has just exploded, and we’re not done,” Paige Prentice, VP-Operations told 7 Eyewitness News Anchor Ashley Rowe.
“It’s not slowing down yet and I don’t see it slowing down for a little while. We haven’t hit the peak I’m sorry to say.”
Parents in the support group hope that their experiences will help other people going through similar scenarios. Throughout their discussion, they repeatedly talk about what they wish they knew before it was too late.
“The opioid grabs a hold of the brain and changes it and makes the individual need that fix,” Ani Bice said. Ani lost her daughter Kathy in June 2015.
David Edick remembers his son Benjamin calling him one day.
“It was a Saturday. He said, ‘Dad, I need to talk to you,’ I said, ‘sure, what’s up?’ He said, ‘I have just been feeling so down, so depressed and I got a little behind on my bills.'"
“I know now that it was because he was buying his pills because he went through his prescription.”
All of the parents agree: the system is broken. They feel helpless.
Prentice admits resources are not as robust as they should be. She says there is currently a 4-6 week wait list to get a bed at Horizon Health. For outpatient programs, she says it’s difficult to engage people who aren’t willing to get their family involved.
Meantime, the people at the parent support group have ideas about what needs to change. They believe there needs to be immediate inpatient care after a detox program. They say families need to understand that their loved one is not choosing to relapse. They believe primary care physicians need to be able to treat, and prescribe medication to treat, addiction.
They want people to know that when a person gets addicted, it takes a village to make sure they survive.