Ross County remembers those lost to overdoses, addiction in awareness day ceremony
CHILLICOTHE— The first year that Ross County held a National Overdose Awareness Day event, it was in the back of a cemetery, secluded from everyone, said Christina Arredondo, director of the Ross County Outreach and Recovery Center and a leader for Directly Affected Ross County.
This year, while the weather forced a last-minute change of plans to an indoor gathering at Orchard Hill United Church of Christ, DARC had planned to hold the ceremony on the steps of the courthouse.
'This year, our governor ordered that the flag be put at half-mast and our courthouses be lit up in purple. We're making progress," she said.
"We refuse to be silent anymore because right now silence equals death ... It's not just the death of people from overdoses or infections, it's the death of families, and unfortunately I know families who have never gotten back up from (an overdose death)" she said.
At the ceremony at Orchard Hill Tuesday night, families gathered to honor those they had lost in the past to overdose and addiction.
While 55 Ross County residents lost their lives in 2020 to overdose, pictures on the memorial wall near the front of the church were not limited to the last year, noted Tracey Kemper-Herman, who runs Narcan distribution Project 4-14 Harm Reduction Outreach and Grief Recovery After a Substance Passing (GRASP).
Three speakers, Sean Cawood, Angela Conley, and Annabelle Dykes, shared their stories, the first of personal struggle with addiction and the long road to recovery, the former two of watching a loved one struggle.
Cawood said that he had started out being a dealer, working for his uncle, believing that he could "just sell, never use."
That changed in September 2006, when he was shot twice, and his father killed. He was prescribed Xanax and Percoset, which began a long struggle with addiction. From 2006 to 2018, Cawood was in and out of jail, graduating in 2016 from pain pills to methamphetamine.
"I was so addicted to methamphetamine that it consumed every aspect of my life and every part of the person I was. It's like I had a steering wheel on my back and it took me where it wanted to go," he said.
In October 2018, Cawood was in jail. He had lost everything, including the ability to see his son and two daughters, when he received a visit from Tracy Hathaway of the Recovery Council.
Handing him a picture of his son, she asked if he would die for his kids."I said absolutely, and she said "I don't believe you. How could you die for them if you aren't willing to live for them?" That night, Cawood prayed for "another chance." The following morning, Hathaway visited again and asked if he had ever heard of Another Chance Ministries.
"I knew I was being called to be more than what I was. I started my journey with drug court, and two weeks later I was accepted into Another Chance Ministries."
From there, Cawood turned his life around, getting a job, a car, and full custody of his son back in 2019.
In drug court, Judge Jeffrey Benson has commended Cawood for his progress, Cawood said but urged him to now help others with their own journey to recovery. "He said, Sean, I've been an attorney for 25 years in this town, and there's five things in this town I'll never forget. You're the sixth."
"I've done CPR many times, but when it's your own son, it's different," said Angela Conley, the director of operations at the Rulon Center.
Conley's 26-year-old son suffers from struggles with addiction, she said. "He came home, and he was supposed to be clean. The VA called and asked if I wanted them to send me Narcan. At the time I thought, I'm not going to let him think that mom has Narcan so he can just use drugs, so I refused it."
Two weeks later, a white package arrived in her mailbox, with just her name and no return address containing two boxes of Narcan.
The same day, her son came home and was acting strangely, before it became apparent that he was overdosing.
"My husband and I got him to the couch. He was blue and not breathing, so I started CPR before remembering, I got the Narcan that day."
It took both boxes to revive her son, and she believes that if the Narcan had not been there, she would have had to bury him that day.
"That was a bit over a year ago today and I'm so grateful I got the opportunity to save his life with Narcan that I had refused. I hope everybody sees the tool that it is," she said.
Annabelle Dykes, a youth leader for Directly Affected Ross County, showed visible emotion as she talked about losing her father to suicide, after a long struggle with addiction.
Dykes' father struggled with addiction her entire life, she said, although she didn't really understand it until she was about five or six.
"I remember asking my mom and my grandma why my dad didn't love me, and they explained to me that he was on drugs, and I still blamed myself and thought it was my fault for not being good enough for him."
Even though she would often not see him for months at a time, Dykes was close with her dad, she said.
"The first time I really realized how bad his addiction had gotten, I was home from school and he was making me very uncomfortable doing things he wouldn't normally do. I was trying to get him to leave, and he started crying about how his own daughter didn't love him. That was really hard on me because I was 14 or 15 at the time."
On an Easter Sunday, he was arrested for a meth lab, she said, and spent nine months in prison, during which time Dykes visited every weekend and spoke to him on the phone as much as she could. After he was released, she thought he was doing better, but eventually, he started using again.
The family talked him into turning himself in again, with Dykes going with him to make sure that he actually did it and so she could give him one last hug before he was incarcerated again.
However, in jail, he overdosed to the point that three doses of Narcan were needed to bring him back, and he was sent to prison, instead of rehab.
After release from prison, he was sent to rehab, and for four months he was doing well, finding religion, having a relationship with his children, and looking for jobs.
"I was 15, and I was getting ready for work, and my mom came in and told me I wasn't going to work because she had something to tell me," she said. "I had thought, he's gone, he overdosed, he's gone, I wasn't prepared to hear that he had shot and killed himself the night before."
"If he knew how hard it was to turn 18 without him, to run track without him, to graduate school without him, he would have been there when I needed him in college," she said, her voice breaking from emotion. "He's not here for all the things I'm doing now for him, but that's more motivation so that I don't have to hear more stories like mine. I just wish I could have him one last time for one last hug, to tell him how loved he was."
The ceremony closed with a circle of candles lit in memorium for those lost in the parking lot, as each participant was given the opportunity to speak the names of those they had lost.