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Two Ohio Mothers Open Up About Their Sons' Drug Addictions


There are some 2 million people with opioid use disorder in the U.S. according to the most recent government survey. That means millions more Americans are living with the stress, anger or guilt of watching a loved one struggle with addiction, people like Leanna Perez Green of Dayton, Ohio.

LIANA PEREZ GREEN: As a parent, it's really hard for me sometimes to live with that. I can't help but feel some responsibility. Like, what did I miss along the way? Why did he start using drugs to begin with? What did I not see? What did I not do?

CORNISH: Her youngest son is 19 years old. He's been dealing with addiction for the last few years. During that time, Leanna Perez Green has become friends with another mom from Dayton, a mom who understands what she's going through. Her name is Becky Walsh.

Walsh's son also started using drugs in his teens. A few years ago, in his early 40s, he finally sought treatment, and he hasn't used since 2017. Last year, Perez Green sat down with Walsh to ask her how she's gotten through it. Member station WYSO recorded their conversation.

PEREZ GREEN: What advice would you have for me, as my son is still a teen? What could you share with me to help me to get through some of the rough days?

BECKY WALSH: I did a lot of the trying to control everything and, you know, threatening. And any trick I could pull out of my hat, I would try it, and it really never did any good. And when my youngest turned 18, I was just done. I was a single mom. And I had the opportunity to do some traveling nursing. And I hit the road. And I was gone for a total of 20 years. So that was my way of coping with it, I guess, at that point was, you know, well, I can't do anything about this. So I left.

PEREZ GREEN: And how do you feel about that?

WALSH: I feel guilty about it (laughter). I wish I could have changed it, but I couldn't. And even looking back, I know I couldn't have. But I learned so much in the 20 years I was gone. And then when I made the decision to come home, I knew what I would be facing. So when I came back, I was honest with them and said, I know that you're using. If you ever decide to change, I'll be here. And I knew that that was really all I could do.

And then it wasn't long after that when my son came to me and said, I can't do this anymore, Mom. I don't want to live like this - because he was seeing his friends dying or overdosing and almost dying. And it scared him.

PEREZ GREEN: Well, I remember you and I talking before, and you told me that you went through detox with your son. That had to have been a really tough situation. Do you feel like your nursing helped you with that or did you just kind of wing it?

WALSH: He didn't want me to see him in that much pain. But we stayed in the same room. He was in the living room. He was on the couch. I was in my recliner. We were up all night long the first night. And I have been a nurse for 40 years. Most of that time has been at the bedside. And I'm telling you now, I would never ever let one of my patients suffer like that. So that was tough.

PEREZ GREEN: So I'm really curious how it feels to have your son in long-term recovery because I've not experienced that yet.

WALSH: It feels like a miracle. I feel like I got my son back. And he did it, he did all of it. He gave up where he lived. He gave up his job. He gave up his friends. He gave up any money that he had. He turned that over to me. But that's what it took. And he was OK with it, which surprised me. But it also told me how much he really, really wanted this. I'll always be grateful to him for that.

PEREZ GREEN: That gives me a lot of hope. It gives me hope for my son. He is a very intelligent person. He's a funny guy. And he has a huge heart. And I have a lot of hope for him. I know that he can have a good future if he could, you know, learn how to live with his addiction and get it under control. I think he's - the sky's the limit for him, and I have not lost hope.

CORNISH: That was Leanna Perez Green speaking with her friend, Becky Walsh, last year. Perez Green's son is currently in an addiction recovery program. This segment was produced by WYSO's Jess Mador. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jess Mador