Joe Blundo, So To Speak | Advocates seek to aid those grieving, promote prevention

The Columbus Dispatch, April 11, 2021

Joe Blundo | Special to The Columbus Dispatch

Debra Evans never stopped trying to help her son battle addiction.

And after he died of an opioid overdose at 39, she decided to turn to helping other parents navigate similar grief.

Evans, 66, of Columbus, is a volunteer for the G.A.P. Network, an advocacy group planning an online conference later this month on working through grief and preventing substance abuse. G.A.P. stands for “From Grief to Advocacy for Prevention.”

Two months after her son, Michael Posey, died in 2019, Evans attended her first G.A.P. conference.

“It just helped me tremendously,” she said.

She’s now on the advisory council for G.A.P., which is part of the Prevention Action Alliance, a statewide nonprofit agency that will host the conference April 21-22.

The first day will focus on grief, the second on advocacy. The conference is free but limited to 500 participants per day. Register at

The alliance notes that overdose deaths have risen during the coronavirus pandemic, making the issues it works on all the more urgent.

Evans’ son injured his back while serving in the Army and became addicted to opioids when they were prescribed by a doctor after he completed his service. A father of three, he battled the addiction for about 11 years before overdosing on an opioid laced with fentanyl.

Evans said she wants to do what she can to break the stigma attached to addiction so that people will more readily seek help.

Gretchen Addison, a prevention coordinator for the alliance, knows the stigma first-hand.

Her only child, Tyler, died at 21 in 2014 of a heroin overdose. He became addicted after being prescribed Percocet for injuries from a car accident three years earlier.

Addison, 53, of Hilliard, encountered judgmental attitudes, even from some members of her family, during and after his struggle.

“Who is anybody to judge another human being for a condition they suffer from?” she said. “It’s astounding to me that we are still judging people based on out-of-date dinosaur stereotypes. … I watched my only child descend into hell and there was nothing I could do to grab him back.”

Though the pain can still be intense, Addison said her involvement with G.A.P. has been an enormous help and given her a mission.

“Your life can have meaning and purpose again through advocating. It brings purpose, it brings fulfillment.

“I had to go through it alone, and then you get to the point where you’re able to stand again and my thought was, ‘I don’t want any more parents to go through this alone.’ ”

Joe Blundo is a Dispatch columnist.