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On Overdose Awareness Day, local mothers share stories of loss

Ryan Taylor, James O'Brien and Lucas Wazeka
Posted at 7:32 AM, Aug 31, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-31 09:45:27-04

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. - Tammy O'Brien, Lisa Wallace and Mary Brown all have something in common...that they wish they didn't.

All three women have lost children to overdose.

James O'Brien died of a heroin overdose in 2017 at just 27 years old.

Brown's son, Ryan Taylor, died at 21 of a Xanax overdose in the beginning of 2019 and Wallace's son, Lucas Wazeka, died of a heroin overdose in September of last year. He was 30.

The deadly opioid Fentanyl contributed to the latter two's deaths.

"I just want people to understand that it’s real," said Brown. "If it can happen to my child, it can happen to anybody and that people need to be able to sit down and talk to their children."

Ryan Taylor
Ryan Taylor passed away in 2019 at 21 years old from an overdose.

The three women met through Youth Challenge of Hampton Roads, a faith-based addiction treatment program in Newport News for adults. None of their sons attended Youth Challenge for treatment, although all three mothers had heard of the program prior.

Now they spend their time sharing their stories in support of Youth Challenge and in support of recovery from addiction.

"As long as I have breath in my body, [Luke's death] will continue to hurt and as long as I have breath in my body I am going to advocate for recovery," said Wallace.

Lisa Wallace and her son, Luke Wazeka
Lisa Wallace lost her 30-year-old son, Luke, to overdose on September 30, 2019.

"Some people think you need to be over it. I mean, no, you never get over a child. I just want other families not to have to go through what we did," adds O'Brien.

Childhood photo of James O'Brien and his parents
Tammy O'Brien's oldest child, James, died of an overdose in 2017. He was 27 years old.

But the COVID-19 pandemic is making that effort difficult.

Mandi Sabo, Development Director for Youth Challenge, says the traditionally successful treatment program has lost a handful of graduates to overdose in recent months.

Some had been clean for years.

“The stress and the trauma that comes with all of that. For anybody that’s hard but for someone who needs community extra, needs accountability, needs support and is still working on their healthy coping mechanisms that’s just all the more hard for them," she said.

Sabo says if you know someone who struggles with addiction, is in recovery or has recovered, it's more important than ever that you call can give them support.

If you or someone you know is suffering from drug addiction or other forms of substance abuse, The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has a hotline available 24/7; 1-800-662-HELP (4357).