Son’s loss to drug addiction motivates mom reach out to those in need.
PATASKALA — Lisa Gordon knows about pain, the kind that comes from losing a 23-year-old son.
She sometimes struggles to sleep, wrestling with memories of Corey, her son, and if she could have done anything more to help him. Other times she fixates on April 29, 2009, and questions what happened to Corey in the hours leading up to his death.
Who did he interact with?
What caused him to revert to old habits?
The pain is visible when Lisa, 47, of Heath, talks about Corey, and it’s what drove her to start a narcotics anonymous group in his memory.
She does not want other mothers to endure the same sleepless nights and be plagued by the same unanswered questions. Just as importantly, she firmly believes Corey — and his easygoing, peaceful nature — would have wanted her to reach out to others.
“It’s what Corey would want, to reach out and help someone else,” said Lisa’s sister, Kathy, 52, also of Heath.
Corey loved music, and he loved people.
He played the guitar, both acoustic and electric, and he enjoyed karaoke.
In his free time, when he was not playing his guitar, the one with the Grateful Dead sticker on it, he would go camping or fishing or to a concert.
He was quick-witted, and easy to get along with, and he loved wearing tie-dye T-shirts and T-shirts emblazoned with a peace sign. The peace sign, to Corey, was more than a symbol.
“He loved everybody; he was a well-natured, loving boy,” Lisa said. “He never met a stranger.”
Those qualities did not disappear entirely when, after graduating from Heath High School in 2003, he started taking pain pills, like OxyContin.
He was enrolled in college, studying to be a history teacher, and he still accompanied his family, although they lived in Heath, to the same Pataskala-area church, First Apostolic Church of Pataskala, they had always attended.
Sometimes he sang at church, with his mother at his side.
Eventually, the OxyContin pills became too expensive, Lisa said, and a friend told him about heroin, which was much cheaper.
“He was immediately hooked on it,” she said.
That is when the slight changes in his personality became exaggerated.
He would nod off, on occasion, while sitting in the living room.
Was he not getting enough sleep?
He and some of his friends also started carrying around spoons in their back pockets and water bottles, Lisa said.
What were they doing with that stuff?
He stopped playing his beloved guitar as much as he used to.
Before she had time to answer the questions, Lisa started finding needles.
It was at that point a frantic Lisa realized Corey had a drug problem, and she started taking him to different substance abuse clinics.
He took Suboxone to treat his opioid addiction, but he would relapse and fall back down the same heroin hole.
“Every time he would stop using he would get sick, real bad muscle pains,” Lisa said.
Eventually, Corey found his way into the court system — and court-mandated rehab.
That was 2007.
He spent time in jail and more time in the Spencer Halfway House, where he received treatment for his addiction.
Lisa has read some of his journal entries from his time in Spencer. They recount his descent into addiction, from OxyContin to heroin.
Corey appeared to turn his descent into an ascent when he got out of rehab. He had big plans.
He returned to college; he found a job; he found an apartment, started attending church again regularly, and he attended narcotics anonymous meetings two to three times a week.
Things appeared good. He stayed clean for more than a year.
Then, on the night of April 29, 2009, Corey went out karaoking, and the next day he was late for work.
Kathy and other family members found him in his apartment, the victim of an accidental drug and alcohol overdose. The drug was heroin.
His mother was crushed. She questioned if his abstinence from the drug contributed to his death, and she wanted to know who gave him the heroin.
Despite the questions, she picked herself up and decided to do something to help other people struggling with addiction.
A KILLER TEMPTATION
Youngsters continue to use heroin and prescription medicine, such as OxyContin, despite the sobering statistics attached to them.
From 2004 to 2008, 6,000 people died in Ohio from unintentional drug overdoses. From 2006-2008, the numbers increased steadily each year, from 1,271 to 1,458.
In Licking County, specifically, 14 people died from accidental drug-poisoning deaths in 2009 — half of those from heroin.
“If I could save one person, it would be worth it for me,” Lisa said. “You think that it won’t happen to you. Every mother is thinking, ‘This is something you hear on the news.’ That’s what I thought.”
Lisa still carries Corey with her, both literally — she periodically wears one of his hooded sweatshirts and carries a roll of pictures in her purse. Many of the pictures show Corey, frozen in a specific time and place, more often than not, wearing a smile — and figuratively — she wants to honor him by warning others about the dangers of heroin and drug addiction.
“It opened my eyes when it happened in my own life,” she said. “It doesn’t matter who you are or what you have. You could be the smartest person in the world and when addiction takes over it takes over.”
To that end, Lisa earlier this year started a narcotics group at First Apostolic Church of Pataskala. She dubbed the group C.O.R.E.Y., which stands for Center of Renewing Excelling Yourself.
It meets every Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the church.
The program is open, meaning recovering addicts can bring someone with them, such as a mother or a friend.
Lisa sometimes accompanied Corey to his meetings, and she said it helped her understand his addiction.
Prior to Corey’s addiction, she viewed people with drug problems as “scum.” That changed with Corey. She watched her son slowly succumb to his addiction, and she watched him fight to regain his life.
Lisa also attended enough narcotics anonymous meetings with Corey and met enough of his friends from rehab to recognize she was mistaken.
“Being an addict, a lot of people don’t understand addiction is a disease,” she said.
C.O.R.E.Y. meetings follow the narcotics anonymous format.
Attendees read 12-steps literature. They discuss daily challenges, and they provide each other with feedback and support.
Lisa attends the meetings. She hands out coffee and offers her own form of support.
“I want them to know they have a place to go, to know they’re not the only ones suffering with this,” she said.
Chad Klimack can be reached at (740) 927-3738 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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