Opioid crisis: Mom says ‘stop the stigma, start the support’

Linda Squire, a member of the Cathedral of the Assumption, held a picture of her son Jonathan, who died in 2015 of an accidental overdose of fentanyl. (Record Photo by Marnie McAllister)

Linda Squire, a member of the Cathedral of the Assumption, held a picture of her son Jonathan, who died in 2015 of an accidental overdose of fentanyl. (Record Photo by Marnie McAllister)

By Marnie McAllister, Record Editor

Jonathan Squire loved to dance, especially to Britney Spears. He possessed a beautiful singing voice and was selected for a national honors choir. He loved animals and St. Francis of Assisi. He was a swimmer, a writer and a good friend. At age 25, he still confided in his mother.

Photos taken by family and friends depict a smiling boy with tanned skin, perfect teeth and compassionate brown eyes. He’s dancing; he’s posing cheek to cheek with a friend.

What the photos don’t show is his addiction to opiates, which ended his life on Jan. 12, 2015.

No matter how much his mother and father, his sisters or his friends loved him and accompanied him, they could not save him from his addiction to drugs.

He lost his struggle that January day to a lethal dose of fentanyl, a synthetic and potent drug that has been slipping into local heroin supplies.

Linda Squire, Jonathan’s mother, shared his story with The Record recently to help raise awareness about addiction and offer support to other families battling the disease.

“I say stop the stigma, start the support,” said Squire during an interview at her home in East Louisville. “Any epidemic has to be stopped. And this is an epidemic of vast proportions.

“I call it the heroin wars,” she said. “And everybody has to fight the battle.

“Many have been lost — they are mothers, they are students, businessmen, people with advanced degrees. They go to work, they take care of their homes. It doesn’t discriminate between rich and poor, male and female, where you live, where you work,” said Squire, a member of the Cathedral of the Assumption.

Jonathan’s path to addiction began when he entered his teens, she said.

“He started smoking pot when he was a teenager and then it went to pills like Xanax (a tranquilizer). And then to pain pills,” she said.

Then one day, he confided to his mom that he tried heroin.

He tried rehab and it worked for a while, but then he relapsed. At the time of his death, Jonathan seemed to be doing well. He had kept a job for a year and had a nice apartment and car, which he kept neat and clean, she said.

Jonathan’s story isn’t uncommon in Kentucky. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) characterizes the explosion of opioid use in the U.S. as an epidemic. And according to 2015 data, the most recent available, Kentucky is one of five states in the country with the highest rates of overdose deaths — nearly 30 people in 100,000.

The 2015 study, released by the HHS last month, indicates that 12.5 million people misused prescription drugs that year. Jonathan was one of more than 820,000 people in the U.S. who used heroin in 2015 and he was one of 33,000 who died of an opioid overdose, according to the study. Overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids, including fentanyl which killed Jonathan, increased by 80% from 2013 to 2014, according to the HHS.

While there are still more questions than answers when it comes to prevention, Squire urges parents with addiction in the family to “accept that your child is at risk.” She suggested keeping children involved with healthy peer groups and educating them about addiction. But there’s no sure cure, she added.

“When you’re coded for addiction, you have a disease,” she said. “Your struggles are so much harder.”

Since her son’s death, Squire has been busy trying to help other families and organizations that assist addicts.

She organized a Mass at the Cathedral of the Assumption last month for people who have been affected by addiction. She hopes it helped bring some solace to people.

“There are other mothers I talk to who say, ‘Where is God? Why did God allow this to happen?’ I say, ‘This doesn’t have anything to do with God.’ I feel like God is there to show me the way, to guide me, to give me strength. Not to blame,” said Squire.

She also turned to the Blessed Mother after Jonathan’s death, she said, calling on Mary for answers.

“I would call on the Blessed Mother … and she would say to me, ‘I don’t know why your son is gone, but I am here with you to give you strength.’ That’s how I got through it.”

The Squire family also has a Go Fund Me site, The Johnny Squire Foundation, which raises money in Jonathan’s memory. The funds are donated to various groups that address the opioid crisis.

Among its beneficiaries is the Kentucky Harm Reduction Coalition. One of its founders, Russ Read, is a member of Holy Trinity Church and plans to hold an event June 26 to combat overdoses like Jonathan’s.

Read will train the public to administer naloxone, a treatment for opioid overdose that can help a victim until emergency help arrives. Training to administer the naloxone kits will be at Holy Trinity Church, 501 Cherrywood Road, on June 26 at 6:30 p.m.

The kits — which will be given away for free — aren’t just for those who have addictions to illicit drugs, Read noted.

“People who have chronic pain who take pain medication should attend this” in case of accidental overdose, he said, noting that overdoses can happen when a patient forgets she’s already taken a pill and takes another. Overdoses can also happen when you drop a pill and a child finds it or when an adolescent in the household decides to experiment with pain killers.

“Anyone who has pain medication in their house or in their community should have a naloxone kit,” he said, adding that Catholic high schools in Jefferson County have kits on hand. The kit could be used on a student or a visitor to the campus, he said.

Read also serves as the executive director of Beacon House, a transitional home where men can live when they finish detox and initial treatment. The home teaches life skills and helps residents build new lives, Read said.

Currently 50 men live at Beacon House, located on South Second Street. About 85 to 90 percent of its residents are dealing with opioid addictions.

In his work, Read has seen that addiction affects people from every walk of life.

“It doesn’t matter your demographic,” he said. “A lot of youngsters get addicted because they get a sports injury and the doctor gives them a prescription for 30 Hydrocodone or something like that.”

Then, he said, when the pills become harder to afford or find, someone who’s addicted turns to heroin.

Read recommends that families lock up their pain medication and try non-narcotic pain relief. And he advised those who are concerned about a loved one developing an addiction to “be vigilant.”

“When you start seeing different patterns of behavior, take note of everything they do and everyone they hang around with. They’re going to isolate. And that’s when you need to start asking questions,” he said.

Read noted that the Kentucky Harm Reduction Coalition hopes to help people understand that addiction is a disease and not “a moral failing.”

“The majority of people have addiction in their life somewhere,” he said. “People who are addicted don’t realize they’re addicted. They have a bona fide disease and you can’t treat it yourself. I know from experience.”

Read said he was addicted to alcohol and used it for 40 years. He stopped 10 years ago.

“If we see this as a disease, we can break the stigma that’s associated with addiction and break down barriers to treatment,” he said.

The naloxone training event, co-sponsored by the Archdiocese of Louisville, will be held in Holy Trinity’s Multi-Purpose Building. The training is free, but those planning to attend are asked to register at https://www.archlou.org/naloxone-training-registration.

For more information about addiction, naloxone and the Kentucky Harm Reduction Coalition, visit www.kyhrc.org.

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