INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – October will mark seven years since Justin Phillips lost her son, Aaron, to a heroin overdose.
Now she’s on the front lines in the fight to help those battling drug abuse.
“It’s hard to imagine that it’s actually been that long. Sometimes it feels like it was just yesterday,” she said.
Not long after Aaron’s death, Justin’s friends invited her to a meeting held by the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department. IMPD was looking to form a coalition to combat the rise in heroin use.
“It’s weird, kind of in a way, that they would want me to go there,” she conceded. “But I think they were trying to figure out, ‘How can we help Justin?’”
Justin walked away from the meeting with new understanding.
“When I went to that meeting, I learned, and this was probably maybe 45 days after Aaron passed away, I learned about naloxone, this drug that could have saved Aaron,” she recalled.
“And I learned these things that I didn’t know hydrocodone and heroin are the same drug. And so it was just natural for me as a problem solver, as someone already doing this similar work to recognize, ‘Oh, we have to do something.’”
Justin founded Overdose Lifeline in 2014—a nonprofit dedicated to helping families affected by addiction.
“There’s a lot of shame and stigma around people who misuse drugs. And there’s a lot of shame and stigma around, I lost my child to a heroin overdose. It’s just the reality, right? Every time I say it out loud, I’m aware that someone probably is going to judge me as a parent, but I have to speak out in order to help other people not feel alone.”
She works daily to eradicate the stigma surrounding addiction. Her work toward prevention, education and support led to “Aaron’s Law” in 2015. The law allows anyone to get a prescription for naloxone.
“When Aaron passed away, it required a prescription and that prescription was only going to be for you. So that meant that myself, as someone who potentially might be recognizing that I’m having a problem misusing opioids, would have to go to my doctor and openly admit that, which is not a realistic situation,” she said.
“And we needed access to naloxone for anyone who felt they might run into someone who might be a potential for overdose.”
Justin’s work led Erica Watkins to nominate her as a Remarkable Woman.
“She has really shown compassion to the opioid epidemic,” Watkins said. “She founded Overdose Lifeline and created a support group for those who have lost loved ones to overdose. That’s where I met her and she inspires me.”
Justin’s humbled by the nomination and will continue her work to help others.
“It’s humbling to me. And it’s so touching and listening to Erica, you know, being supportive and what I sometimes like to refer to as taking care of the other moms. It’s just part of, I think, my reason for being here and the reason for having these life circumstances to help others have that voice and figure out how we walk this journey together.”