KNOXVILLE, TENN. - Several Knox County mothers are all shedding the stigma attached to what happened to their children by opening up about opioid drug addiction.
As of Thursday, there have been 173 suspected opioid drug overdose deaths in Knox County so far this year. In 2016, 221 people lost their lives to an overdose, according to the Knox County District Attorney's Office.
While the numbers are startling, what is even more apparent is the heartache behind the numbers.
With a careful touch, Joni Laymon rearranges the decorations and mementos around her son's grave.
"The flowers to me, is the only thing I can do tangible that I can put my hands on," Laymon said.
She visits her son's grave weekly to be close to him.
"This is where I come visit him. I mean, I carry him. He's always with me right here," Laymon said.
Laymon lost her son Rex two years ago to an accidental overdose. It was a night with friends that turned into a nightmare. A mixture of alcohol and opiates were too powerful and he died in her arms.
"It is a pain that there are no words for, there just aren't any words for," she said.
Laymon isn't the only parent suffering this loss.
By the end of this year, the Knox County Opioid Drug Task Force expects there to be 300 suspected opioid drug overdose deaths.
"It just blows my mind how many people daily are losing their parents to the opiate epidemic and it just shouldn't be," Laymon said.
She's hopeful Rex's story will help someone else.
"If one kid wakes up and sees the interview and is like 'man, if for no other reason, I don't want that to be my mom,' then it will make it all worthwhile," Laymon said.
"Just remember the children who have lost their lives because there are a lot of them," said Katie Allison, a mother who lost her first child to an opioid overdose.
Henry Granju died at just 18 years old.
His death connected Allison with her friend Tina King, whose daughter was dealing with addiction.
"Our children dated at one point and I called Tina and said 'I think they are involved in serious drugs.' Melissa, her daughter, called me one time and said, 'I believe Henry is hitting bottom, he needs treatment,'" Allison said.
Her loss has fueled her fight to help others, specifically parents like herself.
"Let them know that you are always there for them and you don't approve of what they are doing but you approve of who they are, they are still that person deep inside," Allison added.
King echoes that urgency as her daughter is in recovery at the moment.
"It's really scary and it's really hard and they are doing horrible things but they aren't horrible people, they never were horrible people," King said.
Both these moms want other parents to share their stories and put the stigma aside.
"I'd like to see more families say that addiction took their child right out," Allison suggested.
Metro Drug Coalition also says conversation and education are key in preventing further overdoses.
"We can be an advocate for a person as long as we can but the one person that's going to turn around is the person who is abusing themselves," said Deborah Crouse with MDC.
These mothers know all too well, it may only happen at the breaking point.
"Don't give up on your child if they are out there doing this now, don't give up on them," King said.
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