A tear-stained ribbon hangs from Latonya Hager’s blouse, faded gold letters bent with wear read, “our son.”
Attached by a shiny safety pin is a tattered photo of she and Drew, her brown-haired boy. She smiles emphatically as she talks about their trips to Florida and Hawaii and a visit from Fiona the Fairy on Drew’s 16th birthday.
Her Valentine baby, Drew was always a thrill seeker. Full of life and ambition, Latonya said Drew excelled in welding and planned to attend Eastern Kentucky University. He loved life, lived and breathed sports and was always popular. He had to have the very best, including a brand new metallic blue Chevy Silverado.
“Me and his dad, the day after he died, went to the funeral home to pick out his casket,” Latonya said through her grief. “His casket was the same color as his truck.”
Drew Ramey died at the age of 19. A deadly concoction of methadone and Xanax took his life when he overdosed Nov. 19, 2005.
While playing basketball for Madison Southern High School, Drew suffered a knee injury at the age of 16. Drew was prescribed pain killers following surgery for the injury.
“I can pretty much trace it back to that,” Latonya said of the beginning of Drew’s drug usage.
As a nurse, Latonya said she began to see signs of a possible drug addiction. In his bedroom one day she found ink pens with the middle part taken out, capsules and some tweezers.
“I noticed he was angrier more,” she said. “His grades were failing, but I didn’t know what to do.”
Latonya said she approached Drew about the drugs, but he denied he had a problem.
“He would look at me with those beautiful eyes and say, ‘Mom, I tried that, but I don’t do that,’” she said. “‘You’re crazy, Mom.’”
Latonya wanted to believe him. But the differences in Drew’s demeanor, his lack of interest in school and anger concerned her.
“I knew he was headed down the wrong road,” she said. “I quit giving him money and he thought I hated him for it.”
One day she knocked on his door and he pushed her way. At the time she was hurt, but she said she didn’t understand the addiction.
“The drugs make you angry and he didn’t want me to see that,” Latonya said. “I was always talking to him about drugs and ‘straighten your life up, go to college,’ and he just didn’t want me around that.”
The week of Thanksgiving, Latonya said she was going to go see Drew, but she didn’t make it.
Instead, she got a call that her son was in the emergency room. He began having seizures at home and was foaming at the mouth. By the time paramedics arrived, Drew was gone.
“They called me and said “Drew (overdosed) and he’s at the hospital,’” Latonya said. “I said, ‘Is he OK?’ and they said, ‘Well he’s purple, but the ambulance has got him.’ They didn’t tell me anything. So when I got there, I had to watch them do CPR on him. And he was dead.”
After nearly a year of dealing with the denial, anger, guilt and sadness, Latonya said Drew’s death has changed her life. His death has given her a passion to help save the lives of other children who may be suffering from drug addictions.
“If we all think, ‘Well, he’s dead, we can’t help anybody else, it’s too late for Drew,’ then nothing’s ever going to happen,” Latonya said “We can’t sit back and say, ‘This drug problem’s too big, we can’t handle it.’”
The stigma that envelops drugs is a difficult one to overcome, but Latonya said she spent too much time being quiet while Drew was alive.
“Nothing’s worse than losing a child, so I don’t care what people say now,” Latonya said. “I’m just here to tell people to ‘wake up. Don’t be in denial. Don’t wait until they’re in the casket to start speaking out. Use your voice while they’re still alive.’”
Latonya and other local citizens are in the beginning stages of coordinating a coalition to pull in resources from the judicial system, law enforcement, doctors and other professionals that will offer materials and advice for families dealing with drug addiction.
“We’re wanting to help people,” Latonya said. “I feel like I didn’t do enough while he was alive. I prayed; I don’t know what I should have done, but I should have done more. That’s what I feel like. That’s why I’m doing this.”
Through educating others, Latonya said if one life is saved, Drew’s death will not have been in vain.
“I just don’t want his name to die,” she said. “I don’t want people to forget him. At least he will have done something with his life.”
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