Grief and loss fuels parents' continued battle against addiction in Delaware [video]
Delaware passed a new 911 Good Samaritan law in early July. It gives legal immunity to people who call for help when someone is overdosing.
Leading up to the bill's passing, legislators heard heartbreaking stories from parents who lost children to addiction. They say their work to fight addiction in Delaware is far from done.
A law backed by grieving parents
The day legislators voted on the law, David Humes of Wilmington was anxious.
"They allowed us to stand in front of the full House," Humes recalled. He stood with other families, clutching a picture of his son Greg who died of an overdose last year. Then the vote count started. "Yes, yes, yes, it started," Humes said. "You could just feel it, it went through and it was unanimous, it hit all of us, you know?"
Humes' son died after a long stretch of sobriety—and was not alone when he overdosed.
"They lifted him up, they placed him in his own car, drove him to a hospital," Humes said. "They opened the door and walked away, didn't honk the horn, didn't ring the bell, didn't call 911."
By the time Greg Humes was found, it was too late.
Next steps—getting the word out
A few weeks after Gov. Markell signed the Good Samaritan bill into law, Humes was sitting around the kitchen table with some of the same parents who stood in front of the legislature that day. They discussed strategies to make sure people know the law exists. Humes suggested a T-shirt that says "del-AWARE."
They talked about the recent drug death of "Glee" star Cory Monteith and whether the issue of addiction might become part of the show.
"We need to educate these young adults who are potentially abusing these drugs that this is a law that's on the books," Humes said. "They don't have to run away from people in distress. They can pick up the phone and they can save a life."
Helping parents cope with grief
Humes closed his landscaping business after his son died last year and is now focusing his efforts on addiction issues, all while dealing with his grief, which can be overwhelming at times.
He was recently at a doctor's office, answering a list of routine questions. "He says 'children?' and I say 'Tw...' and then I said, 'I have one living.' There are things like that that just smack you in the face."
Humes and other parents need help coping with their grief said Elizabeth Perkins, whose son John died from an overdose in 2011. She says they usually don't feel at home in regular support groups full of people who lost spouses or parents.
"We dealt with a child who had problems for a long time, totally different grieving process," Perkins said.
To help herself and other families in her situation, Perkins started a Delaware chapter of GRASP, which stands for Grief Recovery After a Substance Passing. Her group meets once a month. Families talk and learn to cope with their new reality.
"There are waves of grief, and it's like a tsunami coming in, and you have to learn how to ride the waves because if you go into that swell, you are done," she said.
Breaking the silence around addiction
Perkins wanted to do more than address grief. She wanted to break the silence and shame that she says surrounds addiction. "People were willing to come and talk to us, but wouldn't speak out, wouldn't talk publicly, we needed to start talking about this subject."
Delaware's Good Samaritan Law carries her son's name, John M. Perkins Jr., and Perkins has been encouraging other people to speak up about addiction—and access to treatment. This year, she connected to another grieving family sharing her vision, Don and Jeanne Keister, of Bear, Del.
"We feel as though we have an obligation to our son and to people who are in recovery and need help, and that's what we're going to do," Don said.
The Keisters lost their youngest son Tyler to a heroin overdose only seven months ago. He was 24. "He was a good kid," Don said. "He was funny, smart, athletic, he had a state championship, he just got involved in these pills I guess."
Access to treatment is an issue
Pills led to heroin, and one of the issues the Keisters want to bring awareness to is how hard it was—and is—to get help. "Don and I and Tyler spent four hours on the phone to find somebody who would take him with our insurance," Jeanne recalled.
To help create more treatment options, the Keisters have founded an advocacy group called Attack Addiction. "There's not many places in Delaware," said Jeanne. "Don would like to see a sober high school, many states have a sober high school, but children who are under the age of 18 have to leave the state to get help."
The group's other main mission is to raise awareness to Delaware's growing addiction issues. They are speaking to parents, kids, students at high schools and universities—anybody who will hear their message that addiction is a problem, these families say, that reaches every part of the state, and every kind of family.
Tune into WHYY TV's newsmagazine FIRST on Friday, July 26, 2013, at 5:30 p.m. to watch Maiken's story on battling addiction in Delaware.