Woman whose son died from heroin overdose launches support group for those who’ve lost loved ones to substance abuse

Gwen Knox (Source: WAFB)
Gwen Knox (Source: WAFB)
Updated: Mar. 28, 2019 at 10:17 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Overdose deaths are down overall in Baton Rouge, but overdose deaths due to opioids are still going up. And now, a new resource is available for people who’ve lost someone to drugs.

Losing someone you love is never easy, but losing someone to substance abuse carries a unique kind of pain. One Baton Rouge woman has felt that pain, and now, she’s using what she’s learned to help others.

“It’s very, very hard for people to come forth,” said Gwen Knox.

Knox is on a journey through grief. In 2015, her son, Brian, died of a heroin overdose. Like many mothers, she knew every phone call could be the one.

“You know that your loved one is using and there’s a possibility that they might die, ya know? You anticipate that. Brian was on drugs for a long time,” she said.

It was a grief support group that helped Knox along her journey, but she realized her feelings were different. She was the only one there who’d lost someone to drugs.


“I had to work through the guilt that I felt because I felt relieved,” Knox said.

Now, she’s starting her own support group, the first in the area specifically for those who’ve lost someone to substance abuse.

The group is free to join and open to the public. It will meet every Tuesday, starting Apr. 2 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at 4615 Government St., building 2. The sessions will include presentations on educational topics related to dealing with grief.

Topics discussed will include things such as the nature of grief, understanding substance abuse disorder, managing difficult emotions, coping and making needed adjustments, handling special occasions, and blame, embarrassment, grief reactions, sudden death, and its effects.

The group is being launched in partnership with Capital Area Human Services (CAHS).

“It will be a place where people can come and feel safe, not judged, be able to talk about the things that they may not have spoken with anybody about,” she said.

“From the perspective of what I do around here, I see young people die all the time,” said East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner Dr. Beau Clark.

It’s a reality Dr. Clark knows very well. As the parish coroner, he counsels families who’ve lost people to drugs and suicide. His office is now taking a deeper dive into each case, trying to figure out what’s fueling the epidemic. It’s called a psychiatric autopsy.

“Interviewing their friends and family, their neighbors, whomever has contact with them, and then apply each one of those cases and see if there is a system of common things that might have led to that,” Dr. Clark said.

Those interviews serve a dual purpose: collecting data on each death while helping families find closure.

“I take it upon myself to help them pick up those pieces to help them pick up those pieces by helping them answer those questions why, how, what went wrong, what happened, and the sometimes if we can apply some of that to the living and prevent death,” he said.

“It is the reaching out that has helped me so much on my journey,” Knox said.

By starting the new group, Knox’s journey has come full circle.

“I find joy when I think of Brian at this point. It was a while before I could even have his picture. I couldn’t look at him,” she said.

She hopes to use this circle to help other families get there too.

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