Mariuana First – Heroin Last
A mother’s losing struggle to save her son from marijuana and heroin addiction

By Cheryl Juaire

Little did I know as I held my sweet baby boy in my arms that first time that I would only hold him for a short 23 years.

Corey James Merrill was born June 9, 1987. He was the youngest of three boys. At the time, Bobby was 9 and Sean was 8. Corey’s first steps were from one brother to the other.

My oldest son went on to become a police officer. My middle son is in recovery now, struggling with prescription drug addiction. Ultimately it was heroin that took Corey’s life.

Corey was the sweetest child you could ever imagine. There was nothing untypical about him. He was in Boy Scouts as a child. Played T-ball and then Little League. He played football in middle school.

They say something usually triggers an addiction. Corey was 5 years old when his father and I divorced, and I will never forget the pain he went through because of it. I don’t remember when I found out he was using drugs, and I never understood it. I just thought Corey was rebelling because of the divorce, being a typical teenager.

What everyone knows, and what’s often not mentioned, is that these kids start their drug use somewhere. In Corey’s case it was marijuana. I don’t believe he stayed on it long, because shortly afterward he found euphoria in pills. When pills couldn’t keep him high long enough, he switched to heroin.

Corey’s adult years were spent in and out of rehab, detox centers, halfway houses. I would always support him – drive him to there and pick him up once he got out – but he was never allowed to live with us. He would borrow money from us but never have the capability to pay it back. He couldn’t hold a job. Through all of this, Corey was into AA and would go and speak at meetings. I never had the opportunity to listen to him. I wish I had.

He ended up in the Middlesex House of Corrections in Billerica for about nine months, and I would go every week to visit him. I got to speak with my child, by phone, through a glass window. No touching. No hugging. No kissing hello or goodbye. It broke my heart every time, but I went. I was his mom.

One of the proudest moments of my life was the night Corey graduated from the Crozier House, a six-month rehab program in Worcester. I hadn’t seen him that happy in years. Corey was finally maturing. He was deep into his serenity. From the Crozier House he went into a halfway house in Arlington, living in an apartment with another individual. He had assistance in seeking work and was being taught how to be self-sufficient.

Shortly afterward, my husband and I moved to Florida, but I always kept in touch with Corey. He got into a relationship with a girl named Melissa, and she became pregnant with my granddaughter Faith. They had a very rocky relationship and Corey would call me. He was sounding so down all the time now. He felt like he just needed a break, to get away. I offered him a plane ticket to come down and see me.

I called him the afternoon before his flight but he wasn’t answering his phone. I continued calling throughout the day, leaving voice mails: “Corey, please call me. I need to confirm you have a ride to the airport.” By 10:00 that evening I was pacing the floor. My instincts told me what I did not want to believe. I had to remind myself to breathe.

I called my oldest son, Bobby, the police officer. He called the local police and asked them to make a wellness check. I’ll never forget the moment Bobby called me back.

He said, “Mom, Corey is dead.” A scream came from my body I did not recognize.

Corey was blue when they found him. There were needles around him. He died of a heroin overdose, something I did not even know he was using again. Some say it was his last hurrah before he boarded the plane, knowing he couldn’t take it with him. Others think it was his first time in a long while – that he took the dose he was used to but it was too much.

I’ve learned about the disease of addiction, things I wish I had known while Corey was alive. Addiction is a disease. I never thought of it that way. I always thought it was a choice. Yes, the first time it was a choice. After that I say it was Satan. He’s grabbing hold of our children and not letting go. These kids are sick. And their moms? They want their children back.

Addiction has become an epidemic. I am joining in the fight with all these other moms to help end it. How? We don’t know. But have you ever dealt with an angry mom?

Addiction, you haven’t dealt with anything worse than an angry mom. So look out. We are moms, we’re mad, and we will stop at nothing to save our children.
We need Narcan in every police station. We need to detox longer. We need insurance companies to increase the length of stay in rehab allowed by their policies. We need more beds available. We need to educate the public about addiction and end the stigma around it. We need to teach our little ones now. We need to share stories. We need to stand strong, together.

I mentioned that my middle son was also an addict. He is now in a program that I strongly believe in: Teen Challenge, a 15-month-long Christian rehab program. They provide youth and adults with a Christian-based solution to drugs, alcohol, and other life-controlling problems. They have an 87-percent success rate, and Sean is doing amazingly well there.

But what we really need to look at is where did these young addicts start? What led them down the path of destruction? In Corey’s case, that answer is simple: marijuana!

As I said, the pain Corey felt after the divorce made him turn to drugs. And what drugs most accessible to a kid? Marijuana and alcohol. Both are now legal in several states, with medical marijuana legal in many more. And that legal status proclaims to our youth that these two addictive drugs are acceptable. You just have to be 21 to use them.

Some people say marijuana is not a gateway, and in some cases that may be true. Not everyone who starts with marijuana becomes addicted, but I’ve asked dozens of people on heroin, and they all told me they started with marijuana.

In my opinion marijuana is a gateway. It certainly was for my son. We need to start reaching out to more families who have lost a child and ask them, what did your child start with? I asked a group of them and in just a couple of days I had 79 mothers who absolutely knew that their child started with marijuana.

Is that a risk you want to take with your child?

We need to talk to our youth while they are still young and vulnerable. We need to have a conversation with them about drugs, because everyone has been touched by drugs somehow. I only wish I could go back and have that discussion with Corey. I promise you, if I knew then what I know now about both marijuana and alcohol, Corey’s story certainly would have had a different ending.

I will not let Corey’s death be in vain. I will hold my head up high and say, yes, my son was an addict. He had a disease. He was sick.

Is your child? Because, moms, I will do whatever it takes, as small a voice as I may have, to help you in your fight with your child over addiction. If the death of my son can save yours, then he did not die in vain.

I almost feel like I can breathe again.