“I want you guys to start talking to each other. You know what’s going on,” said the mother of the late Emily K. Cooley.
Barman said by confronting a friend or loved one about their addiction, it’s better to “lose a friendship rather than a friend.”
Cooley, 20, of Milan, died Jan. 5 from a heroin overdose. Barman said her daughter relapsed when she went to a New Year’s Eve party.
“Four days later, she’s now my angel,” she said. “I do believe addiction is a disease. But the first time you use is your decision.”
Barman shared her daughter’s journey of heroin addiction and her many relapses during a #SpeakOut presentation Friday at EHOVE Career Center. The morning session was for students and the public was invited to the evening presentation.
Also speaking during the nearly two-hour panel Friday were law enforcement officers; Azaria Henson, an EHOVE criminal justice student whose mother is a heroin addict; representatives from the Starfish Project and Teen Challenge of the Firelands.
Kara Supina, who has been sober for nearly three years, shared her experiences of being addicted to heroin for 25 years. She is a part of the Sandusky Artisans Recover Community Center, which uses art, meditation and yoga to help young people with addiction and other problems they may face such as bullying.
Three EHOVE medical careers students came up with the panel: Chey Liss (New London High School), Macie Parthemore (Perkins) and Erica Vargas (Norwalk). They created the project for the SkillsUSA state competition in the Health Services Career Pathway Showcase which they will present in Columbus in April.
Supina said drugs filled a void in her life in ways material things didn’t, but when she was off the drugs, she felt just as empty. She told the EHOVE students that eventually doing drugs wasn’t about getting high, but being able to function.
“It was a vicious cycle,” she added.
“At age 11, I take my first drink,” said Supina, which took away the anxiety and sadness she had over her mother who was a “severe alcoholic” and being physically abused by her alcoholic stepfather and at age 8, being molested by her stepbrother.
Eventually, Supina said she became a woman she didn’t intend to be — who had stolen painkillers from her mother as she battled cancer and who sold her body for drugs. She considered heroin “a wonder drug,” which made her feel like Superwoman the first time she used it.
“It wasn’t long that I was the bad influence. They ended up doing what I was doing,” she said.
Supina agrees with Barman that addiction is a disease, but the downward spiral “starts with a choice.”
Perkins Assistant Police Chief Robb Parthemore shared what first-responders do when handling an overdose call and notifying a loved one about a drug addict’s death.
“We have to say ‘I’m sorry for your loss’ way too much,” he said.
Stephanie Liss, a corrections officer at the Ashland County Jail, shared how inmates are processed and monitored and that police often know the defendants and their personal and criminal histories. She said addicts often deny their drug usage even though there are obvious signs.
“They lie about this because they feel like they’re letting us down,” Liss added. “Every story is as heartbreaking as the next.”
Henson said the burden of her mother being a heroin addict “sits on my shoulders every day.” She shared a letter she had her mother write in which the woman talked about the impact of being addicted. The mother described her life as a “hell ride” with the devil and said her first thought of the day is how she is going to survive.
On separate occasions, Henson found her mother and grandmother unresponsive. Her mother was dead for eight minutes before she was revived. Henson said in both cases, her mother and grandmother didn’t show her any appreciation and her mother indicated she felt like she was robbed of a high.
“My mother has been an addict all her life, but I’ve always had suspicions,” Henson said. “My mom feels completely helpless with her addiction.”