After losing her son to drugs in 2015, Gwen Knox experienced a unique kind of grief. She felt some sense of relief that her son was no longer suffering, followed immediately by extreme guilt.
"With the relief comes the guilt because how could a parent be relieved about the death of their child?" she said. "There's so much shame connected with that death. … Parents end up grieving in secret because they don't want people to know how their child died. You're worried people will consider you a bad parent."
Knox is now using her own experience to help others going through similar struggles. She's hosting a new support group for people who have experienced loss from substance abuse.
It was midnight when Gwen Knox heard her landline ring almost two years ago in her cozy Baton Rouge home.
The first meeting is this Tuesday at Capital Area Human Services and sessions will run for 10 weeks with meetings every Tuesday evening.
The program is part of a bigger push from the region's largest government-funded provider of mental health and addiction services to address the local impacts of the nationwide opioid crisis.
Last year the agency shifted from abstinence-only models of treatment, and has begun to focus more on other options, including use of prescription drugs to help people wean themselves off opioids.
Capital area healthcare professionals released a nine-point plan Wednesday to address the opioid epidemic locally, a plan they hope will save lives.
Capital Area already offers Vivitrol, which is an injection drug that blocks the opioid receptors in the brain and lasts about a month. Starting this week, the agency will provide Suboxone as well.
Jan Laughinghouse, director of addiction recovery services, said it's an important addition because the Suboxone program will accept health insurance coverage, including Medicaid. The vast majority of providers in the area accept only cash for the treatment, she said, which means many people can't afford it.
The program can accept up to 30 patients at a time for the first year, expanding to 100 the second and 275 the third.
Laughinghouse said the goal remains to get people off the medication eventually, but research shows it's one of the most effective methods of addiction treatment, often more effective than abstinence-only programs. Participants will be required to attend regular counseling sessions as part of the program.
"This will save lives," Laughinghouse said. "By holding onto antiquated ideas about treatment, we're not doing people any service."
Almost four years after her son's death, Knox said the stigma remains surrounding fatal drug overdoses. Part of her support group, she said, will include educating people on the science behind addiction to help parents "recover from blaming themselves."
Knox had her son evicted from her house because she knew he was using drugs there. Brian Knox was found dead in Metairie less than six months later. He was 40 years old.
Gwen Knox said it's difficult not to accept that blame. "But we have to do what is necessary for our own survival," she said. "I have to accept that I did the best I could with the knowledge I had."
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Knox said she attended a grief support group in the months that followed, but the material presented didn't address the specific grief that comes with losing a loved one to drugs. That's what motivated her to start her own group.
The group is free and open to the public. Anyone wishing to participate is asked to contact Knox to register: email@example.com or (225) 925-1906. The first meeting starts at 6 p.m. Tuesday.
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