WATERFORD, Mich. (WJBK) - Deaths from drug overdoses in Michigan have reached record levels, but for many it's still a taboo topic. A mother who lost her son to a heroin addiction is now working to stop the stigma and help others address their addiction before it's too late.
Jeannie Richards of Waterford started a grassroots nonprofit called Bryan's Hope after she found her son dead in the basement of her home with a needle sticking out of his arm.
"There's something more horrific about that drug than anything we've known because this drug gets in your head and it completely takes over," she says. "It's as easy to get it as it is a pizza."
She wants everyone to be aware of what she believes is a heroin epidemic, consuming residents in communities across southeast Michigan.
"Bryan, I'd like to think, was just like any other boy growing up, active, happy, healthy," she says. "It wasn't until he starting taking prescription vicoden that he morphed into somebody that I didn't know."
What began as a way to treat the pain he was suffering from a basketball injury - medicine prescribed by a doctor - turned into a life-ending addiction to heroin. Jeannie and her husband say they did everything they could to save him.
"I had this plan in my head the whole time. I'm going to breath life back into him; I'm going to get him Narcan; I'm going to do whatever because I'm not going to let him die."
Bryan's story is not unique, but the pain each family feels when their loved one is under the heroin spell is.
"I turned my head and he tied me off and he stuck a needle in my arm and I was off running," remembers Stacie Burns Natale. She is recovering from a heroin adiction.
She met Bryan's mom at one of her monthly community action meetings and decided to join her in the crusade against heroin addiction and the stigma that goes along with it.
"That's my whole goal, is just to be Bryan's voice because he is not here anymore. So I am now carrying the torch of, we do recover, and nobody is ever hopeless," Stacie says.
Earlier this year members of Bryan's Hope traveled to Washington, D.C. to take part several anti-heroin rallies and to ask the federal government for help. The group was also awarded a grant for naloxone auto injectors. It received 200 of the life-saving kits and have been offering overdose prevention training all over Oakland County.
"If we could get to people before it gets so bad, I think we'll have more success in getting more people in recovery," Jeannie says.
If you'd like to learn more about Bryan's Hope or join Jeannie in the fight to help families battling addiction, visit www.bryanshope.org.