Logan Mencke
Staff Writer

Lorain County Alcohol and Drug Abuse Services (LACADA) and the Hospice of the Western Reserve hosted a forum on March 21 in the Spitzer Conference Center at Lorain County Community College. The presentation dealt with the struggles and grief that come after a loved one passes away from a drug overdose.

Initially scheduled to be held in Spitzer room 114, a smaller room, the panel had to be moved to the Grand room due to high attendance; a testament to the number of people affected by the opioid epidemic.

Speakers at the event discussed addiction and grief to offer advice on how to cope with a drug-related loss.  

Tom Stuber, the president of LCADA, explained to the crowd what addiction is and how it can completely take control of a person’s life. As a neurological based illness, addiction changes the structure and function of the brain, resulting in a compulsion that is more powerful than basic human instinct, according to Stuber.

In addition to explaining addiction, Stuber provided those who have lost someone with words of comfort to help them understand how someone could put their addiction before family and friends.  

“Your loved one didn’t choose drugs to be more important than you.  The drugs hijacked their brain and held them hostage.  No one chooses to live as they did; they just didn’t know how to get out,” said Stuber.

Diane Snyder Cowan, director of The Bereavement Center for the Hospice of the Western Reserve, discussed the different emotions a person may go through during a period of grieving.  Often at the beginning, deep sadness happens when the death is sudden, particularly over the fact of not being able to say goodbye.  Sadness is usually followed by anger; an emotion that consumes a lot of energy that needs to be released either physically or creatively, according to Cowan.

The most common emotion under these circumstances is guilt, an emotion that causes someone who is grieving to blame themselves and others.  However, Cowan asserted that those who are grieving should focus more on the positive memories.  

“The truth is, you probably have done more good in the life of your loved one than harm,” said Cowan.  Although the grief never absolutely dissolves, it will weaken over time, Cowan explained.

Amy Gilbert, a minister of Second Baptist Church in Elyria, attended the forum and said events similar to this will lead to positive changes.  

“These are the steps that are going to be large steps in our community to reach out to other people and to let them know there are organizations that care,” said Gilbert.

Greg McNeil is a father that shared the story of how he lost his youngest son, Sam, to a heroin overdose.  The story begins in 2007, when his son was severely beaten at a New Year’s Eve party.  After being taken care of in the emergency room, his son was over -prescribed pain medication; a common scenario for many future addicts.

In the beginning, his son was buying pain pills illegally on the street until the price per pill hit $80.  That was when his son switched from pills to paying $10 for a bag of heroin.  By 2010, McNeil and his family had discovered about his son’s addiction and put him into treatment where he did well.  However, his son would continue to go through cycles of relapsing and getting clean for the next few years.

In 2015, McNeil and his family believed that Sam’s battle with addiction was over.  “He had a great job and a girlfriend he was madly in love with,” said McNeil.  “They were expecting their first child.”  When his girlfriend left for a church retreat on the Friday morning of October 23, Sam contacted a dealer he had gone to before and died from the heroin he had purchased.  Like many of the overdose deaths in Ohio, his heroin was heavily laced with Fentanyl.

After a long 17 months’ period of grieving, McNeil shares his message with the crowd that addicts need more help than they realize.  McNeil compares an addict overcoming their addiction to someone wanting to climb Mt. Everest.  “There’s only been 4,000 people to (successfully) climb Mt. Everest and there’s a reason for that.  It’s because it takes a team,” McNeil said.  “I believe recovery is much the same way.”