There’s no name for parents who’ve lost children.
And there was no local support group for parents who’ve lost children to the opioid crisis, either, until a couple of grieving mothers made it happen.
“There’s nothing in Tipton County that parents who’ve lost their children go to to get support from each other, to be able to talk out your grief,” said Lori Green-Laird.
Her son died only eight months ago.
“Austin was known by a lot of people in Tipton County, he was so funny,” she said. “If you were to meet him on the street you wouldn’t know he was an addict. He hid it very well.”
A 2010 graduate of Brighton High School, he earned two associates degrees and worked as a chef at several restaurants in Memphis. He has two daughters.
The partying began in high school, his mother said. She warned him about it, but he was soon addicted to 30mg Percocet pills.
“This went on for several years … I knew he was dabbling, but I didn’t know with what and I didn’t know how to stop it.”
The 28-year-old had been to rehab in California twice and sought help once he returned home. Local churches have support groups for recovering addicts, but he wanted a more confidential setting.
“He didn’t want people in the community to talk,” Lori said.
During the early stages of the pandemic his mental health declined further for several reasons.
“He spiraled into a deeper depression …” Lori said.
He overdosed on May 14 after taking pills laced with the synthetic opioid Fentanyl, which can cause respiratory distress and death.
A Tipton County Sheriff’s Deputy saved his life by administering Narcan, a nasal spray which is used to combat overdoses. Each deputy, and most law enforcement officers in the county, carry two doses each.
“Unfortunately, after they overdose they don’t remember anything, so he said, ‘Oh, Mom, it was nothing …’”
She’d hoped it was a new lease on life for her beloved son, but it wasn’t.
Nine days later he posted “Who wants to hangout I really need someone to talk to” on his Facebook page.
He and his best friend later met someone, a drug dealer Lori said is from Tipton County but sells in Memphis, and left with a different drug in place of the Percocets.
“She was apparently in the shower and he had fallen out into the floor in the kitchen.”
This time deputies were unable to revive Austin. He died on May 24.
The toxicology reports confirmed he had toxic levels of Fentanyl and Alprazolam in his system.
Leslie Owen also lost her son to a drug overdose.
“We’ve lived here forever,” she said as she begins to talk about Ethan, 21, who died on Nov. 2, 2019. “He went all the way through school here, kindergarten through high school. He played rec ball with the Tipton Twisters …”
Ethan graduated from Brighton in 2016, then went to work. He loved hunting and he loved his family and friends.
Leslie became emotional as she shared she was very close to her only son, the baby of the family.
“He was a special guy and I don’t want his memory sullied because of his death. He just lost his way and we were trying to help him … ”
The day he died he and a friend drove to Memphis to meet a dealer, believed to be the same man who sold drugs to Lori’s son, and Ethan got into his car. They drove away and when they returned Ethan had pills.
He took them overnight and didn’t wake up the next morning.
Those pills were also laced with Fentanyl.
Leslie considers it a homicide, but said because the friend didn’t see the exchange the dealer cannot be prosecuted.
“No one put a drug in my son’s mouth, but it wasn’t what he thought it was.”
Now out of the fog of grief that immediately follows a parent’s worst nightmare, Leslie and Lori have teamed up with Susan Hatfield and are on a mission.
“This is a passion of mine,” Leslie said through tears. “This is my crusade.”
The group, which is still in its infancy, is called Safe Harbor Tipton County. Its purpose is to provide a place for parents to grieve their children in a confidential way, to talk to others who understand and to lean on one another for support.
“We want to let parents know they’re not alone in this,” Leslie said. “There was no one local you could just reach out to because there’s so much of a stigma when your child dies like this.”
Lori said they want to erase that stigma as much as they possibly can.
“Grief comes in waves, you may have good days, you may have bad days. We all just talk about that and encourage each other and support each other.”
So far there are four other members and they invite anyone interested to join them.
“We know there are so many more than just four of us,” Lori added.
Austin’s was the sixth overdose of nine recorded through the Tipton County Sheriff’s Office in 2020. The surrounding cities have separate overdose statistics that are not yet finalized.
From 2016-2019, 58 Tipton Countians died due to an opioid overdose, according to the non-profit Drug Free Tipton. In 2019, when Ethan died, there were 18 deaths.
Lori and Leslie invite these other parents to join them.
There is a private Safe Harbor Tipton County Facebook group and there are meetings on the fourth Tuesday of each month (both in person and through Zoom).
“We want this to be a safe harbor,” Leslie, who recently accepted a position with Drug Free Tipton, said. “I want them to know their children matter, their children were beautiful souls caught up in something bigger than them and it didn’t define them.”