Her son was dead.
Davis, 20, had been found dead in his car from a drug overdose.
“They found heroin in his car; they found a syringe in his car,” Owen said.
Owen, a school counselor at Hayes Elementary in Kennesaw, said Davis had gone missing the night before the detectives arrived on her doorstep.
“I knew, when he wasn’t home by midnight, he wasn’t coming home,” Owen said. “He had never not come home before, ever — even as a teenage boy — and not let us know.”
Within weeks of her son’s March 4 death, Owen’s family started the Davis Direction Foundation to raise awareness for opiate and heroin addiction, and to advocate for changes in the way society looks at addiction, rehabilitation and medication.
“We didn’t want flowers, we didn’t want things. We wanted for his death not to be in vain,” Owen said.
Her younger son, Spencer, who is the foundation’s president, agreed.
“Any family saved, any person saved is a good save,” said Spencer, a senior at Kennesaw Mountain High School. “We don’t want families to go through the same thing we did.”
Three months to the day Davis died, the foundation put on a symposium on opiate addiction. Another is planned in October to discuss care for addicts.
Tonight at 9:00, the foundation is leading a “Lights of Hope Ceremony” at Kennesaw Mountain High to recognize September as National Recovery Month.
Four candles will be lit to remember those who lost their lives to addiction, celebrate those in recovery, encourage active addicts to get the treatment they need and support families who have or had a loved one become addicted to opiates or heroin.
The foundation, in partnership with the Cobb Community Foundation, is also organizing a golf tournament and silent auction set for Sept. 15 at the Governor’s Towne Club in Acworth.
Items up for bid include a baseball signed by Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter and other sports memorabilia, as well as a guitar signed by all four members of the Rolling Stones. Proceeds go toward promoting awareness and affecting change in opiate use.
Marietta Councilman Johnny Walker recently joined the Davis Direction Foundation’s board of directors.
He donated leftover funds from his campaign to the foundation and is looking forward to helping people.
“I just see what heroin is doing to these young people,” Walker said. “It’s just out of control.”
The face of addiction
A picture of Davis on his high school graduation day in 2011 is on as many as 14 digital billboards at a time throughout metro Atlanta, a project donated by CBS Outdoors and graphic artist Jason Gribble with Formetco Incorporated. Next to Davis’ photo, the billboard reads, “Heroin is killing our children.”
Davis, the second of five children, was raised in Kennesaw. Owen described her first-born son as an academically-gifted athlete who had been editor of his high school yearbook and senior class president at Kennesaw Mountain High School. He went on to attend Kennesaw State University with aspirations of obtaining a business degree.
“He was everybody’s friend. He made everybody laugh,” Owen said. “He was just a very cool kid.”
Spencer called his older brother “awesome,” and misses playing video games with him. Spencer said the hardest part about his brother’s death are the special events Davis isn’t there for.
“The first Easter, first Mother’s Day, first Father’s Day — every first we have without him there is sad,” Spencer said.
Davis was not what his mother said is a common — and inaccurate — perception of a heroin user.
“Everybody thinks heroin is the drug of people who come out from under bridges or the homeless shelters or that kind of thing, but … you can function highly on heroin,” Owen said. “Heroin is now the drug of choice for middle-class, white Americans who are trying to self-medicate.”
The Foundation For a Drug-Free World reports the number of 12- to 17-year-olds who used heroin at some point in their lives increased by 300 percent between 1995 and 2002.
Every 19 minutes, a person dies of a prescription overdose ,and opiate addiction claims the lives of more people in the U.S. than car accidents, according to studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the U.S. National Safety Council.
Owen said her son first turned to an old bottle of Vicoden in her medicine cabinet as a coping mechanism to deal with stress and get some sleep.
“His mind was always spinning,” Owen said. “Those wheels were always turning, and he couldn’t sleep because his brain never shut off. All he wanted to do was get some rest.”
After that, Owen said it wouldn’t have been hard for her son to find drugs.
“Anywhere in Cobb County, there’s someone trying to sell something — believe that,” Owen said.
Working for change, prevention
Owen said there is zero regulation for rehabilitation clinics in the country, one of the things the Davis Direction Foundation is urging lawmakers to change.
“There needs to be psychologists, psychiatrists — there needs to be medical doctors involved in rehab. There needs to be certified and degreed counselors,” Owen said.
Two months before his death, Davis had successfully completed a three-week stint in rehab, but Owen says her research leads her to believe her son should have stayed for six months. Owen, though, made it clear she is not blaming the facility where Davis was treated for his death. Drug addiction is a disease, she said, and it needs to be treated as such by insurance companies and the public at large.
“We can’t just continue to do the same things that we’ve done,” Owen said. “They’re not working. It continues to spiral and spiral out of control.”
The Substance Abuse and Mental Services Administration has set this year’s theme for Recovery Month — which promotes the benefits of prevention, treatment and recovery for mental and substance use disorders — as “Join the Voices for Recovery: Speak Up, Reach Out.”
From jewelry to arm bands to T-shirts, the Davis Direction Foundation is getting its own message out: “Narcotics … Never, Not Once.”
The foundation has more than 4,000 followers on Facebook, and Owen said she’s been contacted by a local minister for help after a youth group member died. She said the Cobb police and fire departments have referred people to the foundation for support as well.
Owen said the foundation is working on a packet to give to teenagers and young adults as they leave hospitals about heroin and resources in the community.
Longtime friend, colleague and fellow foundation board member Leigh Colburn said Owen has a powerful message to share.
“I’ve rarely seen people be able to come back from such a tough blow with such strength,” Colburn said. “She is a force to be reckoned with.”
Colburn, the principal at Marietta High School, said people don’t realize if they have opiate-based prescription drugs at home, then they have a form of heroin in their home. “Just because it’s in a prescription bottle, it doesn’t mean it’s OK to take whatever dosage and whatever frequency you want.”
Colburn wants to galvanize the community, especially parents to “clean out their medicine cabinets as a first line of defense.”
Owen’s message is simple: “It could happen to you.”
“Heroin doesn’t discriminate. Addiction doesn’t discriminate,” she said.