Mother who lost son to overdose looks to inspire second chances

Published: Jul. 8, 2020 at 6:20 AM EDT
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As new data shows an increase of deadly drug overdoses during the pandemic, a Vermont mother is sharing the story of her son's losing battle to addiction.

"I think what happens is it becomes a vicious cycle because like I said, people don't wake up and say, I'm going to be an addict and that's what I'm going to do with my life," said Tara Reil, whose son Jefrey Cameron died of a heroin overdose.

Cameron is described by his mother as a gentle, caring person who sank into the cycle of heroin addiction, and even after overcoming it twice, lost his battle to the same drug he tried to beat. But she says his story is not defined by the end, but by the journey, and the times when Cameron was given a second chance.

"The owner really gave him that second chance, he really set those clear boundaries with Jef saying, 'This is what I expect from you, this is what I don't want to see.' But he was willing to give Jefrey a second chance. Too many places will not give people that second chance," Reil said. She wonders if more employers will do the same.

Aaron James, the owner of Kingdom Crust in St. Johnsbury, does just that. He didn't employ Cameron, but he grew up in the restaurant industry and saw addiction plague it. Instead of shying away from it, he says he decided to look it in the eye.

"I think everyone deserves a second chance. If you don't give them a second chance once they have proven what they can do well and get off drugs and get in recovery. If you don't give them a second chance, they'll probably go back to the addiction," said James.

He says he doesn't employ active drug users, but rather those in recovery looking for structure and a second chance.

"These are not active drug users, they are in recovery. They need some hope, they need some structure. One of the best things I think anyone in recovery can do is have structure," said James.

He says providing this opportunity is a great step in stopping the stigma around drug abuse.

"They want to work, they want to get off addiction, they just don't know how," said James. "So if I can offer them a job, tell them 'Go get cleaned up, come back and I'll give you a job, guaranteed' -- hopefully, that gives them some incentive because a lot of times when someone is in addiction they just don't know what to do. They might not like where they are, but they don't know how to get out."

He says some of the most rewarding opportunities have been celebrating with those recovering another year of being clean.

"To be involved in a positive way with someone's life coming back together and staying on track, it's incredible," said James.

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