It has been four years since Becky Savage lost her sons Nick and Jack to acute alcohol and oxycodone overdoses. But the mom of two Indiana University students -- before his passing Nick had just completed his freshmen year at IU Bloomington and one of her youngest sons is a current student -- is keeping their memory alive by educating others about the dangers of substance use.
In honor of National Recovery Month, Savage is again sharing her story and some tips on ways to talk to your children about substance use.
"We will continue to tell Nick and Jack’s story until there are no more senseless deaths," she said.
One tragic decision
Becky Savage’s sons did not have a substance use disorder. By all accounts they were two, typical teenagers who loved sports, their friends and their family. But a night out at a graduation party, and the decision to mix alcohol with oxycodone, would add two more numbers to the growing list of overdoses that have ravaged our country in the past decade.
Although stricken with a grief parents hope to never have to experience, Savage wasn’t about to let her sons become a statistic. Since their death that fateful June night, Savage, whose had two children attend IU, has told her story again and again and again, in the hope that young people, educators, parents and others educate themselves on the dangers of substance use and spare their parents the pain she feels every day.
"We talked to our kids about all of the things we thought we were supposed to talk to them about: sex, drugs, alcohol," Savage said. "But prescription pills never crossed our minds. We want to make sure that no one else is unaware the way we were regarding the misuse of prescription drugs."
A little over four years after her sons passed away, Savage is still telling her story. Her family created the 525 Foundation, which educates young people and parents through outreach, education and support; they advocate for safe disposal of prescription medication and started a prescription medication disposal program in their community that allows for safe disposal. She also serves as a member of the Responding to the Addictions Crisis Grand Challenge community advisory board.
So far, Savage and her family have spoken to more than 90,000 parents, teachers and students about the dangers of misusing drugs. In honor of National Recovery Month, Savage is encouraging parents, teachers and community members to take the time to talk to the young people in their lives. That one conversation, she said, could be the difference between life and death.
Below, Savage shares tips for being a partner in keeping your children safe from substance use.
- Clean out your medicine cabinets. "Everywhere I go and speak there are people who are still shocked to learn that kids are getting medicine out of their cabinets," Savage said. "This is an easy step we all can take to be a part of the solution."
- Talk to your children. "Conversations can save lives," she said.
- Help your child create an exit plan. If your child finds themselves in a situation they are not comfortable in, give them a way to get out of it such as creating a code word they can text you so you can pick them up, no questions asked. "We forget as parents how hard it is to go against the grain of peer pressure," Savage said. "Create a way they can comfortably exit an situation they do not want to be in."
- Ask your children about their friend group. Know who their friends are and if they are on the same page when it comes to substance use.
- If your child calls you for help, try to remain calm. "If your kid calls you because they have done something they are not supposed to, are you going to be disappointed? Yes," she said. "But remember they did the right thing by calling you and they are still alive. Use it as a way to talk calmly about the situation."
More information about Savage’s story and the 525 Foundation is available online.