TRI-CITIES, Tenn. (WRKN) – An East Tennessee woman is on a mission to try and prevent others from feeling the pain and heartache of losing a child to opioid abuse.
Rhonda Coffey has started a support group and hopes to get the overdose reversal drug in the hands of police officers.
Looking back on happier times, Coffey always knew there was something special about her first born son David.
“David was happy. He was a funny little boy. He always had a grin on his face. He was always a jokester,” the mother said while looking through old photos. “It just has a sweetness in his eyes. It just captures his soul I think.”
At 22, David fell down a flight of stairs and broke his ankle and was prescribed painkillers to cope.
“He was prescribed Lortabs, and this young lady and his friends said, ‘You know, if you snort those up your nose they help you better,’” his mother recalled. “’They’ll give you quicker relief and get you high.’”
David’s low self-esteem didn’t help either. He then started experimenting with other drugs, OxyContin, cocaine, heroin, and crystal meth, helping him forget the world around him.
“His own quote to me said, ‘When I take drugs, I don’t have to feel things,” Coffey said.
Fifteen years of addiction, in and out of rehab, it all came to a boiling point on a trip to Pigeon Forge in June of last year.
The 33-year-old went missing and was found in a hotel room; he was robbed and left for dead.
“They took the money out of his wallet, the shoes off his feet, the glasses off his face, his Bluetooth and his tablet and left him to die,” Chris Coffey said, David’s bother.
He had to break the news to his family.
“The scream I heard my father let out, the scream I heard my mother let out, will haunt me for the rest of my life,” Chris Coffey told News 2.
“Eighteen months it has been, and there’s time where it feel like yesterday, and then there are times that feel like forever since I’ve heard him speak,” he said.
The state of Tennessee also has what’s called a good Samaritan law. Call for emergency help and you won’t be charged even if you are high.
“If someone would have did that for my brother or my two friends who died of overdoses, they would still be alive today,” Chris Coffey told News 2.
Shortly after David’s death, Rhonda Coffey started The Addicts Family, a support group for family members of addicts.
“I wanted it to be not just for family’s who had lost someone but for families that were going through it,” the mother said.
Coffey is working with a mother who lost a son in Nashville to start an addict’s family support group in Music City.
The Coffeys want to remember the good about David, his good heart, loving spirit. He even became a business owner, opening his own barbershop.
But the demon that took control of him shows how opioid abuse seems to be a never-ending epidemic.
“The tattoo of my brothers his death date and ashes on my arm would say, yeah, it’s most definitely an epidemic because it cost me my brother,” Chris Coffey said.
Rhonda Coffey said if this could happen to her family, it can happen to others.
“I think so many parents are in denial that this cannot ever, happen to their families, because they’ve taken all the necessary precaution,” she explained. “No family is exempt. It doesn’t matter where you live, how much money you have, what career you’re in.”
“Until we actually care enough as a society to treat the addiction as the enemy and treat the person as a person,” Chris Coffey said. “Fight the addiction and treat the addiction. That’s one of the biggest things after my brother died. That’s what I’ve told everyone love the addict, hate the addiction.”
The grieving mother is also determined to get medicine that helps reverse the deadly effects of opioid overdose in the hands of every police officer in the state.
The Knoxville Police Department has already equipped all of its officers with Narcan nasal spray, a brand for Naloxone.
News 2 did some checking and found out Murfreesboro police drug detectives will soon began carrying this life-saving overdose drug as well, but there are no plans to put it in the hands of all officers.
And paramedics with Murfreesboro Fire and Rescue Department already have the overdose reversal drug.
The Addicts Family can be reached at 423-967-2481 or theaddictsfamily.org.