September has been declared "National Recovery Month" in an effort to educate the public about mental health services and treatment options available to those with substance use disorders. For families who have lost loved ones, though, those options don't go far enough.
Carol Morris of Shirley is frustrated and grieving. "I don't think anyone in the country has lost as many children to drug addiction as I have, but even one is too many," Morris, 70, said.
Over the last 20 years, Morris has lost five of her 12 children to drug overdoses, and their struggles have consumed her life. She knows people find it difficult to comprehend. "They'll say, 'Five children, how are you even standing?'" she said.
Morris said she never imagined her life would unfold as it has. She married her high school sweetheart in 1968 and they raised their 12 children in Watertown, before they divorced in 1994. Her oldest son, Joe, died in 2000. He was 31. She lost her fifth child, Andrew Doug, in August of last year. He was 32. She said his death is still raw.
"I keep myself busy. When I'm not busy I just cry. I don't stop. As soon as I think of him, I break out in tears," she added.
According to the state Department of Public Health, 2,015 people in Massachusetts fatally overdosed on opioids last year. According for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 128 people die from an opioid overdose in the U.S. every day.
Morris said she finds solace in a support group on social media called Not in Vain, for grieving mothers who have lost their children to substance use disorder. She has become an advocate for change in how the battle against opioid addiction is being fought, and is the scheduled guest speaker at an opioid overdose awareness event called the Black Poster Project in Fairlawn, N.J. later this month.
Morris advocates for reforms to the criminal justice system, improved treatment methods, insurance coverage, supervised injection sites and 24-hour methadone clinics.
"I'm gonna hope that we start really clobbering the world with we need to change it. I'm not going to stop telling people my kids died from drugs, and I'm still going to cry and miss my kids," she said.