A Greenwood woman lost her adult son to an overdose from a mixture of drugs and alcohol in April 2003.
His death came after a struggle with addiction for nearly 15 years, and while it left Elaine Beaman devastated, it also left her with hope for the future.
“I guess what I brought away from this is that don’t give up on them, but don’t enable them,” she said Wednesday evening during the second International Overdose Awareness Day ceremony at One Chamber Square in downtown Seymour.
“Tell them that you will love them as long as they live, but they have to get up and try it again because you never know when it’s going to be the day that they say, ‘Hey, this is going to work for me,’ or it may be like in my case, it never happens,” she said. “I just want to help encourage other people that there is hope no matter which way it goes.”
The event, which featured a candle-lighting ceremony, was organized by the Jackson County Drug-Free Council.
This past year, 14 Jackson County residents, including 10 from Seymour, died from drug overdoses. They ranged in age from 20 to 66.
Through August of this year, there have been five overdose deaths, and Schneck Medical Center has treated 80 people for overdoses.
Brenda Turner, the council’s coalition director, said the council’s hope is to eliminate overdose deaths at least in part through public awareness campaigns.
“We’re sharing the message that there is treatment and all kinds of prevention programs,” she said. “Everyone in our community takes a little bit of ownership in this epidemic we’re all facing.”
Charlotte Moss, the drug-free council’s president, said the community was hit pretty hard a week ago when 17 overdoses, including four in Seymour, were reported in one evening.
Those overdoses, including one that led to the death of a North Vernon woman, were linked to heroin laced with fentanyl, a painkiller. Police said the heroin may have contained carfentanil, a much stronger version of fentanyl. Carfentanil is an elephant tranquilizer.
Moss, who lives in Ogilville and is the community services director for Turning Point in Seymour, said her family has seen its share of problems with addiction.
One of those people is Beaman’s son.
“He was one of the cousins I run with, so it made it more real,” Moss said.
She said overdoses remain the leading preventable cause of deaths in the United States.
“We want to publicly acknowledge our losses and help everyone understand that fatal overdoses profoundly affect society,” she said.
Beaman’s son was nearly 36 when he mixed alcohol with some type of painkiller, laid down on his couch to watch a movie and fell asleep.
“… and never woke up,” Beaman said.
Mixing drugs and alcohol was something she said she had always warned him not to do.
Her son had had issues with alcohol and addiction probably since he was 21, she said.
It was something she said she did not really know much about because she was not raised in that kind of home.
“We didn’t drink, smoke or anything,” she said. “My dad was a Baptist minister.”
Her second husband, however, was an alcoholic, and she said she was totally unprepared for it when she married him.
At that time, her son was 7 years old, and her new husband was raising two children on his own because their mother had passed away.
The family was pretty dysfunctional, she said.
“I really never understood how someone could live with an alcoholic, like my sister did,” she said. “If you had any brains, why don’t you leave him? Why would you go back to him? I didn’t understand it at all.”
She said she understood better after living with her second husband for a while and understanding there was the “Jekyll and Hyde Syndrome” and she had attended a lot of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and counseling.
As a youth, her son spent much of his time with his real father, but he was always good when he was with Beaman, she said.
“Of course, I’m a disciplinarian, and everything was cool when he was here,” she said. “When he was with his dad, it was different.”
Beaman and her second husband eventually divorced once their kids were old enough to take care of themselves, Beaman said.
She said she can remember well the first time her son wound up in a hospital after being arrested for driving under the influence.
“Having gone through that for a number of years and not seeing any hope because my ex had never recovered and continued to drink, I was devastated,” Beaman said.
She said she was living with a friend at the time and clearly remembers telling that friend that her son was going to die because of his addictions.
He spent years in rehab and addiction counseling, Beaman said.
“I was always upfront with him,” she said. “I was stern and strict. I wasn’t an enabler. I always said, ‘If you try, I will help you, but you have to try. I won’t condone that behavior when you are living with me.’”
She told her son he could not drink, and he had to go to meetings for drug and alcohol abusers.
“Or you cannot live with me,” Beaman said. “I personally and emotionally cannot deal with it, so he did try living with me a few times. I would catch him drinking. He would hide it very, very well, and I made him leave. He would say, ‘Where am I going?’ and I would say, ‘I’m not sure, but if you fall, I will help you up.’”
Beaman said she understands addiction because she can’t even stop eating cake.
“My son’s issues were totally different than my (ex-) husband’s because he was the type of alcoholic that blamed it on me,” she said. “But my son was different. He was very loving and kind and always had a smile on his face no matter how bad he was hurting. I don’t know anyone in the family who did not love him, but he thought he was the worst person in our family.”
She said that wasn’t true because there were family members who stole from others.
“But he thought he was the worst because he could not be a good son and a good father to his daughter,” she said. “He could not be what he wanted to be.”
Her son eventually went without drugs for six years, Beaman said.
He had a job and was doing well, and then the mother of his daughter died, she said.
“He loved her mother more than anything even though they never married,” Beaman said. “It just takes one little thing. He sat down beside me at the funeral home, and he was drinking.
“Five years later, he just couldn’t do it anymore,” Beaman said. “He called me on a Thursday night and said he was going to try one more time. He was going into a methadone clinic with a friend. He said, ‘I’m going to get better.’”
That call came on Easter weekend, and on the Monday after Easter, Beaman received the call that her son had been found dead.
Beaman said she had had a dream on the Saturday night before his death. In that dream, she and her son were at the ocean. When it was time to go, she called for him, and he ignored her.
“He was walking with a man,” she said. “He had never been disrespectful to me. He always loved me.”
Because of the dream, she said she was able to handle her son’s death a little better.
“I felt that somehow, someway that he was happy, and I think that is what got me through it,” she said. “I have strong faith in God. He helped me through this. He helped me see that my son had had enough, and He was going to take him. With drugs and alcohol, as everybody knows, he could have died in such a different way.”
She said during a counseling session, her son had told her not to blame his addictions on herself.
“’You did not do anything to cause me to do this,’ he said. ‘It’s on me,’” she said.
After the ceremony, Turner said she was pleased with the turnout for this year’s event, and there was at least one person recovering from addiction in attendance, although she had to leave for a recovery meeting.
“She said a year ago today was the last time she put a needle in her arm,” Turner said. “I was putting a ribbon on her, and she said, ‘This means a lot to me.’”
Besides drug-free council members and police, there were several others present, including Bill Brewer of Seymour.
“I’ve always had an interest in drug and alcohol abuse issues,” said Brewer, whose sister died of an overdose in 1977.
Drug overdose patients treated at Schneck Medical Center in Seymour and deaths investigated by Jackson County Coroner Roger Wheeler
*Through Aug. 31
Drug overdose deaths by community and sex
Average age of people dying of overdoses since 2013
Source: Schneck Medical Center and the Jackson County Coroner’s Office
For information about drug and alcohol abuse in Jackson County, visit drugfreecouncil.org.