FAIRFIELD, Ohio -- Colleen Perry wears her son’s ashes around her neck.
She said she’ll always remember December 13, 2015; the day her 26-year-old son overdosed on heroin and died in a porta-potty near Paul Brown Stadium.
Her son, Aaron, didn’t always use heroin. He played the flute for his marching band in high school. Perry said he had a charming personality, and he called her “buttercups” instead of mom sometimes.
“We talk about him like he’s still here,” Perry said. “He was a very, very funny young man. Sometimes I struggle a lot looking at people his age who have children … I won’t ever have his grandchild.”
Though her son died a year and a half ago, Perry still feels the hurt from losing him. But she also feels passionate about speaking out against the stigma surrounding addiction.
“Learn about it because we still hear the same remarks, ‘Well, he’s just a junkie. He did it. Let him die.’ It’s still there,” Perry said. “There’s still the stigma that we need to change.
“They’re people -- they’re my son. It could be your brother, it could be your father, who knows.”
Drug overdoses have surged in Hamilton County since Saturday; there were 36 reported overdoses Saturday and another 22 Sunday, according to Hamilton County Public Health spokesperson Mike Samet.
"People are losing loved ones -- friends, family, people with this disease that has no face,” Samet said.
Addiction does have a face for Perry. It hangs around her neck and lives in memorial pictures.
But even Perry admits that she didn’t understand the devastating effects of the drug until it took her son.
It’s the small signs her son was using that have stayed with Perry. If she had noticed sooner, she said, she might have been able to help him.
“He could be saying ‘Hello, hi,’ and he’d just fall asleep.”
While Aaron was using, Perry said all of the teaspoons in her home went missing.
“He took all of my teaspoons, everyone of them, gone.”
Spreading awareness about the disease and reaching out to those who are suffering will help save lives, Perry said.
“We have to get to the addicts. The people in society are aware, but we have to get to the addicts .... they’re the ones that need to know,” Perry said.
Reporting those who are dealing and reaching out to those who are using, Perry said, is imperative in fighting this epidemic.
“If you know anyone that’s dealing this right now I would beg you -- I know you don’t want to release your identity -- anonymously tell somebody,” Perry said. “Let’s get them off the street, that’s the only way we’re going to do it.”
Perry ran her fingers over her ring that bears Aaron’s fingerprint. She grabbed at the pendant swinging on her chest.
“My necklace, it says ‘always in my heart,’” Perry said.
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