What Mothers are Doing to Help their Drug Dependent Kids this Mother’s Day

For the past 6 years Mother’s Day has been a day of dread for me.  Instead of being pregnant with gratitude and joy, this particularSunday in May has been laced with apron strings of fear, shame, grief and regret.  I have tried to force amnesia and pretend it’s just another Sunday, but I can’t help wonder if my son will call.  If he does, it’s a bittersweet and painful conversation, if he doesn’t call, I worry that he has overdosed and died on a park bench or in a shady motel. 

Mother’s day is a day I spend grieving the devastating impact that imprisonment to heroin addiction has had on my son’s life.  It’s a peculiar state of mind to have a child, hopefully alive out there somewhere—where exactly, I have no idea—but to be grieving his loss in so many ways nonetheless.  Birthdays, graduation celebrations and “off to college” memories have been abducted by trips to rehab, phone calls from jail, and mad rushes to the ER on the heels of another overdose.  Yet, along with the grief, there’s always some hope that he will recover, or at least not needlessly die.  And fortunately, I can still hold onto that hope, unlike so many mothers I have met who have lost their children to overdose and no longer have that choice. 

The first time my son overdosed, the young men he was with were afraid to call 911, and so shoved him into a car intent on dumping him at the entrance of an ER.  Unlike so many others who experience overdose, that day my son luckily survived.  Subsequently, he survived another overdose when he was administered naloxone that was obtained from a community based overdose prevention program.  The overdose, caught in time by his peers at the scene, did not result in my son lying comatose for weeks in an intensive care unit, living the rest of his life severely disabled, or worse yet dying a slow death face down in an ER parking lot. 

On second thought, I have much to be grateful for—that is, as long as my son can be kept alive. Each time my son survives an overdose he is granted another opportunity at recovery.  My son is worth saving.  Every person facing addiction is someone’s son or daughter, and they all deserve a fighting chance.

 So, in honor of mothers who have lost their children to addiction, and moms like myself who live in fear each day of receiving that horrifying call, I would like to turn a corner this Mother’s Day and do something aside from sitting awkwardly and helplessly with my anxiety and grief.  

I am not hoping this Mother’s day for a bread maker that I have no place to store, or cut flowers that will wilt in two days, or a card I’ll have to recycle.  This Mother’s Day I want to extend my plea and my wish for my son, and all those who struggle with addiction, to at least be kept alive until they can find help.

  I am not alone in this plea, nor am I alone in taking matters into my own hands.  Across the country, inspired by the nearly 20 years of tireless work by harm reduction organizations in establishing evidence based practices that have saved over 10,000 lives, parent and family groups are now organizing naloxone workshops and even hosting overdose prevention trainings and naloxone distribution in their own homes. 

Loretta Di Lustro of California lost her only son, John, in 2011 to a heroin overdose. From her home in suburban Ventura County, north of Los Angeles, Loretta teaches overdose prevention and distributes naloxone to drug users, their parents and their loved ones. 

Di Lustro says while some women throw Tupperware and Pampered Chef parties in their homes, she teaches overdose prevention and hands out naloxone.

“We’re needlessly losing lives that could have been saved with naloxone, so it has come to this," she said. 

 In just the first month of her efforts, two lives were saved. 

In San Diego, mothers with A New PATH, a non-profit organization that works to reduce the stigma associated with addiction, are utilizing a “train the trainer” model to get overdose prevention training and naloxone widely distributed to people who need it the most, namely drug users and their families. 

In collaboration with A New PATH, Moms United to End the War on Drugs has launched a campaign to devote Mother’s Day and the month of May to increasing awareness and access to overdose prevention training and naloxone.

In Florida, Janice (her real name was concealed to protect her identity) quietly distributes naloxone and provides overdose prevention training to families, despite the lack of naloxone legislation in her southern, red state.  Regardless of the risks of its potential illegality, Janice says she will continue to distribute naloxone in this manner because it saves lives.  Mothers’ groups in Florida, and other states that have yet to address the overdose crisis, continue to work to pass naloxone legislation and gain access to this life saving medication.

Another non-profit advocacy group, Broken no More, is providing overdose prevention training in Ocean County, CA and launching a national campaign to increase awareness of Good Samaritan laws that protect drug users who call for emergency services in the event of an overdose.

And in Boston, Learn to Cope, a support group for people affected by a loved one’s addiction, is a pioneer of family based naloxone training and has been instrumental in advocating for wider access and distribution of naloxone for years.

Northern California, New York and Chicago all have mother or family led naloxone training organizations in existence.   

A close friend who is involved in these efforts and who has made huge strides to expand access to overdose prevention training in her community has a bad habit, born out of modesty, of often referring to herself as “just a mom”.    That same phrase, “just a mom,” habitually slips off my tongue as well, and so I try to encourage each of us with these thoughts: 

Parents and loved ones who have lived this nightmare, although you may be powerless over your loved one's addiction, don't be fooled into the helplessness of believing that your voice, your story, cannot make a difference.  There is so much empowerment within our lived experiences—never waste that with thoughts, as I've done in the past that say "but I'm just a mom". 

On this Mother’s Day I applaud moms across the country who have owned their stories and their power—mothers who have transformed grief, despair and anxiety into bold and decisive action that brings hope and saves lives every day. With their dedication and continued diligence, perhaps my son, and so many others facing addiction, will continue to live and have a fighting chance to overcome this chronic, progressive and often fatal disease.

To find an overdose prevention program in your area, please consult the Overdose Prevention Program Locator maintained by Boston Hope and Recovery Coalition.


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