Sheena Moore was 18 years old when she was introduced to OxyContin.
A doctor prescribed the drug to manage her pain after a breast reduction surgery, and like so many others, Moore became addicted.
“Your body wants more, and then you’re not able to get more from a doctor, so you start doctor shopping,” Moore’s mother, Brenda Ryan explained. “Then they cut you off, so you go to a dealer to buy them for $30 to $40 a pill. The dealer tells you heroin is the same compound so you do that. You say, ‘Well, I’m never going to shoot it, I’ll just snort it.’ That’s what everyone says but then it goes intravenously. It’s a dangerous cycle.”
Moore managed to get clean, but the first time she relapsed, she overdosed and died on June 9, 2016, at the age of 31, leaving behind a 5 year old son.
“She was really open and honest about her addiction on social media, and so I knew that my daughter would want me to to be very vocal and honest about how she died,” Ryan, of Cuyahoga Falls, said. “I knew that if my daughter had to die, she wasn’t going to die in vain and I knew I was going to do something.”
Within a year, Ryan started Keys to Serenity, a nonprofit that helps Summit County families affected by overdose deaths by guiding them through the judicial system and children’s services, helping them make funeral arrangements and offering support groups and events for kinship custodians and children.
In so doing, Ryan is giving other families the guidance that was not available to her.
“I was not prepared for the loss of my daughter as far as finances,” Ryan said. “How were we going to pay for a funeral? She left behind a little boy; who gets custody? I now have shared parenting with his paternal grandfather but how do you navigate the system? How do you get proper custody of these children and now on top of all of that, how do you deal with the stigma?”
To help, Keys to Serenity offers a number of programs, including Keys to Hope, a donation program to defray the cost of funeral expenses; Keys to a New Habit, a quarterly program that brings in local judges and other professionals to offer license reinstatement clinics, job fairs, GED programs and credit repair clinics; and Keys to Parenting Again, an informative support group for kinship providers. The group also offers the annual Keys to the Heart kids programs.
Most of those programs were put on hold last year due to the pandemic, but Ryan said Keys to Serenity was still able to offer support in other ways as the number of families they serve continued to grow.
“Our numbers have definitely gotten larger,” Ryan said. “People couldn’t make it to meetings and so they lost their connections. The opposite of addiction is connection, so when you don’t have those connections what happens? A lot of relapses, a lot of mental health crises, and of course the drugs are just as deadly as they were in 2016 on the streets.”
More: More than 5,000 Ohioans, including 219 in Summit County, died of a drug overdose in 2020
According to a Columbus Dispatch analysis of mortality data, at least 5,001 Ohioans died of an overdose in 2020, the highest number in at least 14 years.
Summit County saw only a slight increase from 216 in 2019 to 219 in 2020.
But if current trends continue, the county will have even higher numbers this year. As of Tuesday, there were 122 overdose deaths in the county and another 27 possible pending overdoses, according to the Summit County Medical Examiner’s Office.
“Fifty five percent of those ODs were people over 40, and another disturbing statistic is that 20% were African Americans, which we haven’t seen in the past. That means this is no longer a young, white epidemic,” Ryan said.
She added that while Keys to Serenity does not keep track of the number of families it helps, the group has constantly received referrals and requests for help throughout the last year and a half.
“We are seeing more children being affected, and they’re the silent victims in all of this,” Ryan said. “In turn, we see more kindship providers who are raising grandchildren or nieces and nephews, not just because of overdoses, but because Children’s Services is taking the child away because the parents are too sick in their addiction to care for them.”
But while the need increased, Keys to Serenity could not conduct its typical in-person outreach, and its most lucrative fundraising event of the year was canceled.
Instead, Keys to Serenity held a small online fundraiser that yielded about a quarter of what a typical fundraiser would generate. The group also received a COVID grant last year from the Akron Community Foundation.
With those funds and additional donations, the nonprofit was able to provide 15 families $250 each to offset the cost of Christmas and never had to turn a family away that asked for help. It also held a small event last year on Aug. 31 to observe International Overdose Awareness Day on the lawn of the Packard Institute in Akron, which houses Keys to Serenity.
Last month, Keys to Serenity was able to make up for lost revenues, raising around $7,000 at its annual fundraiser, about double what the nonprofit has made in the past.
Additionally, Keys to Serenity has applied for a grant through the Summit County Opioid Healing Fund, a result of the successful 2017 lawsuit brought by Summit County and 21 public agencies, towns, cities and villages against 11 makers and three distributors of pain pills.
More: Want to help addiction, recovery? Summit County Opioid Healing Fund offers $500K in grants
The group also has been raising money by selling key necklaces for $10 at Reverie in Cuyahoga Falls.
The store gives back 100% of revenues from the necklaces, which were also given out at Moore’s celebration of life. Ryan sends key necklaces to families who have lost loved ones to overdoses “to form a connection and let them know they’re not alone in this. No one knows what it’s like more than another mother.”
Keys to Serenity also is holding the third annual Keys to the Heart kids event for children affected by family substance abuse on Aug. 28 and the Keys to the Heart Fishing Derby for ages 8 and and older on Sept. 26.
Because the support group programs are held at other locations, Keys to Serenity is unable to say when they can resume, but Ryan believes the Keys to Parenting Again support group, held at the American Red Cross, will resume in January.
The group also hopes to host a screening of the upcoming Hulu miniseries “DopeSick” starring and produced by Michael Keaton. “Dopesick” examines how Purdue Pharma introduced OxyContin, downplayed its addictive qualities and aggressively marketed the drug to doctors, leading to the opioid epidemic.
Ryan believes her daughter would be happy to know that her death has launched a nonprofit that brings awareness to addiction issues and aims to stop the stigma.
“We need an army to fight this, and to get that army, we need the stigma to stop,” Ryan said.
For more information, visit Keys to Serenity’s new website, http://keys2serenity.org/.
Reporter Krista S. Kano can be reached at 330-541-9416, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @KristaK