Stow -- The dozens attending an Aug. 31 candlelight vigil outside Stow City Hall to bring attention to the growing problem of drug addiction did not hear a bunch of dry statistics from speakers.
"It's been 24 weeks since our son Dylan succumbed to the disease of addiction," said Rob Stone, whose son died this past March, shortly before what would have been his 20th birthday. "I call it a disease because that's what it is, a disease."
The event was in recognition of the annual International Overdose Awareness Day and was organized by TRUTH (Together Rise Up 2 Terminate/Conquer Heroin), an organization of parents and students in the Stow and Munroe Falls area and founded by Stone and his wife Juli in memory of their son.
In a way, those speaking were experts on the ravages of drug addiction, but not because they wanted to be.
The Rev. Jill Smith, pastor at Faith Fellowship Baptist Church, gave an opening prayer, beginning with, "Heavenly Father, we are here tonight with mixed emotions because we are honored to join together and try to make an effort to be supportive, but at the same time, we wish we didn't have to."
Some of the speakers spoke about the stigma that still attaches itself to addiction. Stone said he believes some people's attitudes about addiction are "steeped in ignorance and bias."
"We are tired of losing our loved ones," he said. "We are tired of seeing sadness. And we are tired of the stereotype. We will change that. We will educate, we will give help when help is needed, and we will not stop fighting. Thank you all for coming tonight. Help us continue to fight. Rest in peace, Dylan. I love you."
The event ended with the release of dozens of balloons with cards signed by those present.
Mothers speak out
Susan Carlyon spoke about her son, Adam, and Dawn Knotts spoke about her son, Jordan, who both died of overdoses at age 22 on July 27 and July 21 respectively.
Though addicted to heroin, neither died of a heroin overdose, but pure carfentanil, a synthetic opioid drug that was created in the 1970s as a sedative for large animals and was never intended for human uses.
Carlyon said the coroner told her that, "Adam would have stopped breathing within one minute. He was brought back six times, but there was too much damage to his brain and we had to make the heart wrenching decision to take him off life support."
Both Carlyon and Knotts, like Stone, who described Dylan as his "brave son," spoke about the struggles their sons went through to beat the disease. Carlyon said free treatment centers "had waiting lists a mile long," while other places "wanted thousands of dollars up front and the total bill was upwards of $36,000."
"Adam tried to break free of it himself, but it had too strong a hold on him," she said. "Adam made all the phone calls himself to try and get help. He got frustrated, as did we, and wanted to know why no one was willing to help him when he was asking for help."
Knotts said Jordan survived eight overdoses just earlier this year and that both she and his girlfriend, Morgan Kreptowski, tried desperately to help him get treatment.
"Every life is precious and anyone who loses their fight with heroin is loved by someone," she said. "Despite this, illness that took him from us, Jordan absolutely hated heroin. He hated the evil behind it and the pain it caused."
Both mothers also spoke about their sons.
"For those lucky enough to have known [Jordan]," said Knotts, "there are no words to describe the pain of our loss or the pain he went through. Jordan will always be remembered as a loving, brilliant, funny and kind son, brother, grandson, soulmate, cousin, friend, best friend and dude, or homey, to everyone who knew him."
"Adam was a wonderful young man and I was always so proud of him and that hasn't changed," said Carlyon, who wears a necklace containing his ashes. "He had such terrific qualities about him. He was a great student and a very hard working employee. He was so kind and thoughtful and funny. His voice imitations were the best. Heroin addiction crosses all races, religions, economic groups and cities."
Friends talk about the friends they knew
Dylan's friend, Emily Zimcosky, said, "From the first time I met him, he made a great impression. I knew Dylan would be a great friend of mine and he has been . . . He had an incredible personality and could make you laugh until your ribs hurt. He was just a goofy person."
She said she remembers March 11, 2016, as a day that seemed ordinary, but ended as a day that "impacted my life."
"I saw a bunch of texts," she said. "I slid open my phone and the first text that caught my eye was 'Dylan died.' Two very simple words that changed my life."
Evan Madaffer said he had known Jordan since third grade and they became especially close as freshmen at Stow-Munroe Falls High School.
He said of his friend, "There wasn't a time when Jordan was there and people weren't laughing and he could bring a smile to anyone's face and make anyone laugh."
Kreptowski said she had been dating Jordan for five years. She detailed his struggles, both his remissions and his relapses.
She said later that, "I wish he could be here right now telling his story himself...Every day was a life battle and he fought and he fought until the drug finally won."
Bill Davies, a friend of the Stones, said there are memories more important than the ones of finding a loved one dead or hearing of such a death.
"As a parent, I would think some of the memories worth holding onto, rather than those last moments, are those first moments that you saw him, those moments that he made you laugh as a baby."
Those who struggled provide hope
"I am a person in recovery," said 21-year-old Alexa Brown, "and I know what it's like to live an active addiction. I know the horrors and the war stories and feeling like there's no way out."
To applause, she said "I have almost a year clean, in five days."
Kristi Speare, who described herself as "a grateful and recovering addict," said "In a month, I will be celebrating two years clean," also to applause.
Speare said it is so difficult finding space in a rehab center that, "We're putting people on planes to other states, from Ohio, because there's no other place for people to go." She added her salvation was Narcotics Anonymous and she is still active with the organization.
"Without Narcotics Anonymous, I would never have made it to where I am now," she said, adding that, "The only requirement if you want to join this club, if you want to call it, or any 12-step fellowship, is the desire to stop using."
Brown ended her talk with a note of hope.
"There is a way out. If I can do it, anyone can do it," she said, adding "There is hope after this disease."