BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The words of a grieving mother touched thousands of people around the world last year. Now Gwen Knox is turning her pain into action. Knox recently launched the first Louisiana chapter of a support group called PAL – Parents of Addicted Love Ones.
"December 30, 2015 was the worst day of my life," Knox recalled.
She lost her son, Brian, to a heroin overdose. His obituary was brutally honest about his struggle with addiction. The online version went viral and was shared thousands of times around the world.
The hundreds of email responses she got inspired Knox to do more. She stumbled across the website for PAL, but realized there were no groups meeting locally.
"The program is set up like a buffet," Knox explained. "You go to it, you take what you want, and you leave the rest behind. No one is giving advice telling you what it is you should do."
The group meets on Tuesdays at O'Brien House. The drug treatment and prevention center was eager to offer the free meeting space.
"The truth is that we're all in this together, and if we don't provide consolation and support for each other, we're just going to be more miserable," said Todd Hamilton, executive director of O'Brien House.
In 2016, 89 people died from heroin and other opioid overdoses in East Baton Rouge Parish, according to coroner Beau Clark.
Knox knows the pain, but she also has hope.
"As a parent of an addict, it just looks impossible. It just looks as if, 'Oh my God, this will never change,'" she said. "One of the most important things that we as parents must do is to educate ourselves."
There are no counselors in PAL groups. They're run by trained volunteer parents like Knox. There is a curriculum with weekly lessons, and Knox says the hardest one to learn is how to separate your addict from your child.
"What has really happened is the place that you used to have in their lives, it's no longer there. What's in that first place now will be drugs," she said.
The meetings are free and confidential, and they're open to anyone, including spouses. There's even a separate entrance at O'Brien House, and there's no obligation to talk if you don't want to.
"Run, don't walk," one attendee said. "The support is priceless. [Our son] loved his career. He had his home. We thought things were perfect, and life is not the same anymore for any of us as a family."
Knox hopes to use the connections she made from Brian's obituary to start more PAL groups around the country.
The Baton Rouge PAL chapter meets every Tuesday from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Use the O'Brien House entrance at 446 N 12th St. Registration is not required.