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 is launching 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.
It's been just over a year since 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.
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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 for the first time on January 24th at O'Brien House. The drug treatment and prevention center was eager to offer the free meeting space.
"What we see, roughly speaking right now, is probably one overdose death a week on average in the greater Baton Rouge area," executive director Todd Hamilton said.
Heroin and other powerful opioids can snuff out a life in mere minutes. 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 said 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.
"The truth is that we're all in this together, and that if we don't provide consolation and support for each other, we're just going to be more miserable," Hamilton said.
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 – 8:00 p.m. beginning on January 24. Use the O'Brien House entrance at 446 N. 12th Street. Registration is not required.
Contact Gwen Knox for more information: (225) 266-5603 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit palgroup.org for details on the meetings and curriculum.