By Kimberly Armstrong
May 23, 2016
Ian was 20 years old when his mother, Ginger Katz, found him dead of a heroin overdose in the basement of their Connecticut home.
Faced with the loss of their youngest child, doctors recommended that Katz and her husband, Larry, tell grieving relatives that he died of a heart attack or brain aneurysm to soften the blow.
Instead, as Ginger Katz lay awake the night before her son’s funeral, she decided to speak out.
“I could not, would not, bury my son with a lie,” she told parents at Stafford Middle School. “I felt very early on, if we don’t address it, if we shove it under the rug, more people will die.”
Ginger and Larry Katz started the Courage to Speak Foundation in order to provide parents with the tools to help their children live drug and alcohol free lives. She said that while the stigma surrounding addiction is beginning to fade, only one out of three parents have had a discussion about the dangers of drugs with their kids.
Ginger Katz believes Ian’s addiction stemmed from a history of sexual abuse she discovered after his death. For this reason, she said it’s incredibly important for every child to have a least one parent or mentor they can be completely honest with.
“He kept in this pain, and I believe that’s where his risky behavior came from,” she told the audience. “This is the most important part of my program: make sure your children have three to five adults in their lives that they can go to.”
One-on-one activities with parents, electronics-free family dinners, and staying up until kids get home from outings with friends are all effective methods of establishing trust, Larry Katz said. While he believes medicine has a place in society, he said parents should also be careful to keep prescription drugs out of reach and stay on top of trends like e-cigarettes.
“The people who are promoting these things to our youth are very creative,” Larry Katz said.
Ginger Katz also stressed that while it’s important for kids to feel comfortable coming to their parents about mistakes, they can’t go unchallenged.
Local law enforcement released Ian without an arrest when he began experimenting with drugs like marijuana and PCP in high school, and he only had to serve part of a community service sentence after he was involved with a drunken fight in college. The lack of consequences for his action enabled his unhealthy relationship with drugs and alcohol, Ginger Katz said.
“Enabling perpetuates the disease of addiction,” she said.
When Ian died of a heroin overdose in 1996, he was just hours from entering a rehabilitation program after his last relapse. He wanted to stop, Ginger Katz said, but he couldn’t – that’s why it’s so important for children to go down the right path from the start.
“Us parents do the best we can with the knowledge we have,” Ginger Katz said. “Even with all the remorse, drugs are bigger than life and it destroyed him. So kids, have the courage to speak.”
In addition to presenting on the importance of drug and alcohol prevention, Ginger Katz wrote Sunny’s Story to tell the tale of her son’s struggle with addiction through the eyes of the family beagle. The Courage to Speak Foundation also offers facilitator training to parents interested in reducing drug use in their communities.
Laura Lybarger, Head Start program manager for the Stafford Early Childhood Collaborative, said Ginger Katz was asked to speak after a bag of needles was found near a local school. Lybarger said she was the obvious choice to help increase drug and alcohol awareness in the Stafford area.
“She has vast experience and we said, ‘That’s the woman we want to come speak to our community.'” Lybarger said.
The Courage to Speak Foundation’s presentation was made possible by the Stafford Early Education Fund.