Corey's story: My son's addiction A mother's losing struggle to save her son from heroin addiction
By Cheryl Juaire Guest Columnist - The MetroWest Daily News
Photo Caption: Corey Merrill, in happier times: As a baby, with his mother, top right, and then-girlfriend, Melissa O'Brien, and with his newborn daughter, Faith. CONTRIBUTED PHOTOS
Little did I know as I held my sweet baby boy in my arms that first time, that I would only hold him for a short 23 years.
Corey James Merrill was born June 9, 1987. He was the youngest of three boys. At the time Bobby was 9 and Sean was 8. His first steps were from one brother to the other.
My oldest son went on to become a police officer. My middle son is in recovery now, struggling with prescription drug addiction. Ultimately it was heroin that took Corey’s life.
Corey was the sweetest child you could ever imagine. There was nothing untypical of him. He was in Boy Scouts as a child. Played T-ball and then Little League. He played football in middle school.
They say something usually triggers an addiction. Corey was 5 years old when his father and I divorced and I will never forget the pain he went through because of it. I don't remember when I found out he was using drugs, and never understood it. I just thought Corey was rebelling because of the divorce, being a typical teenager.
Corey's adult years were spent in and out of rehab, detox centers, halfway houses. I would always support him - drive him to these places, pick him up once he got out - but he was never allowed to live with us. He would borrow money from us and never have the capability to pay it back. He couldn't hold a job. Through all of this Corey was into AA and would go and speak at meetings. I never had the opportunity to listen to him. I wish I had.
He ended up in the Middlesex House of Corrections in Billerica for about nine months, and I would go every week to visit him. I got to speak with my child, by phone, through a glass window. No touching. No hugging. No kissing hello or goodbye. Broke my heart every time, but I went. I was his mom.
One of the proudest moments of my life was the night he graduated from the Crozier House, a six-month rehab program in Worcester. I hadn't seen Corey that happy in years. Corey was finally maturing. He was deep into his serenity. From the Crozier House he went into a halfway house in Arlington. There, he was in an apartment with another individual. He had assistance in seeking work and was being taught how to be self-sufficient.
Shortly after, my husband and I moved to Florida. I always kept in touch with Corey. Corey got into a relationship with a girl named Melissa, and she became pregnant with my granddaughter Faith. They had a very rocky relationship and he would call me. He was sounding so down all the time now. He felt like he just needed a break, to get away. I offered him a plane ticket to come down and see me.
I began calling him the afternoon before his flight and he wasn't answering his phone. I continued throughout the day, leaving voice mails: “Corey, please call me. I need to confirm you have a ride to the airport.” By 10 that evening I was pacing the floor. My instincts told me what I did not want to believe. I had to remind myself to breathe.
I called my oldest son, the police officer. Bobby called the Arlington police to go and do a wellness check. I'll never forget the moment Bobby called me back, saying, "Mom, Corey is dead." A scream came from my body I did not recognize.
Corey was blue when they found him. Needles were around him. He died of a heroin overdose, something I did not even know he was using. Some say it was his last hurrah before he boarded the plane, knowing he couldn't take it with him. Others think it was his first time in a long while, that he took the dose he was used to, and it was too much.
Since coming back to Massachusetts a year ago, I’ve had to do something to help me heal. I joined a few groups on Facebook. One is called GRASP. It stands for Grief Recovery After a Substance Passing. There are 1,884 members and it grows daily. I also joined a group called TAM (The Addict’s Mom) Massachusetts Chapter.
I’ve learned about the disease of addiction, things I wish I had known while Corey was alive. Addiction is a disease. I never thought of it that way. I always thought it was a choice. Yes, the first time it was a choice. After that I say it was Satan. He's grabbing hold of our children and not letting go. These kids are sick. And their moms? They want their children back.
Addiction has become an epidemic. I am joining in the fight with all these other moms to help end it. How? We don't know. But have you ever dealt with an angry mom? Addiction, you haven't dealt with anything worse than an angry mom. So look out. We are moms, we’re mad, and we will stop at nothing to save our children.
We need Narcan in every police station in Massachusetts. We need to detox longer. We need insurance companies to increase the length of stay in rehab covered by their policies. We need more beds available. We need to educate the public about addiction and end the stigma around it. We need to teach our little ones now. We need to share stories. We need to stand strong, together.
I mentioned that my middle son was an addict. He is in a program that I strongly believe in. Teen Challenge is a 15-month long term Christian rehab. They provide youth and adults with a Christian-based solution to drug, alcohol, and other life-controlling problems. They have an 87 percent success rate, and Sean is doing amazingly well there.
I will not let Corey’s death be in vain. I will hold my head up high and say, yes, my son was an addict. He had a disease. He was sick. Is your child? Because, moms, I will do whatever it takes, as small a voice as I may have, to help you in your fight with your child over addiction. If the death of my son can save yours, then he did not die in vain.
I'm almost feeling like I can breathe again.
Cheryl Juaire lives in Marlborough.